Sunday, July 10, 2011

Luther and probability vs. certainty of faith.

This Becker is important.

p. 37.

While it is clear therefore that Luther did not deny that there was such a thing as natural theology and an objective revelation of God in nature, and while he did not consider the so-called "proofs" unworthy of notice, yet he laid little stress on this natural knowledge for several reasons.
First of all, Luther recognized, as do all those who understand this problem, that at best a rational approach to the knowledge of God can never go beyond a high degree of probability.  But to Luther the commonly accepted rule, "Probability is the guide of life" would have been an abomination in the area of religious knowledge.  Luther says that the very essence of unbelief is that men say,  "I do not know.  I am not sure."

So the proofs are not without value.  There is inherent knowledge.  The heathen, too, can know something about the law of God, the existence of God and the goodness of God.  BUT he cannot be sure of anything.  And probability just does not cut it in the area of religious knowledge.  You don't know that you have a gracious God this way, that your life has any meaning or that God is willing to help you.

Faith is a God-created certainty and assurance.  He says,  
Properly speaking, faith is that which endures in extreme evils and holds fast to the Word of life and in this way conquers all the might of the devil, all terrors and all dangers, through which it enters with glory and confidence into eternal life.
Even the most ardent defenders of natural theology will generally agree that such a firm and settled assurance cannot be found in natural theology.
Luther saw that natural theology can maintain itself only with the greatest difficulty.  Long before the antinomies of Kant were announced to the world, Luther had already laid down the rule:
No reason is so firm that it can not again be overthrown by reason.  There is no counsel, no matter how wise, no thing, no edifice, no matter how magnificent or strong, which cannot again be destroyed by human counsel, wisdom, and strength.  And this can  be seen in all things.  Only the Word of God remains to all eternity (Solum verbum Dei in aeternum manet).

I'm not really familiar with the antinomies of Kant, and I should be looking it up.  Here they are.  Interesting.  One could learn more about that.  Anyhow, we see the limits to such intellectual pursuits.  We can be sure of nothing, even science.  (Science makes truth claims, but it is always being tested and changed.  What kind of truth is it?)  Only the revealed word can have any certainty. -- Wow.

p. 38.

Precisely because he rejected "probability" as the enemy of faith, he considered the natural knowledge of God to be of limited value.  "The right faith," he says, "is complete trust of the heart in Christ."
But the natural knowledge of God is by its very nature subject to doubt, and human reason can never come to a sure knowledge of God.  but sure knowledge is what we must have, if we are to have peace of conscience.  This, to Luther, was always basic to the whole problem.
It is just at this point that Luther parts company with neo-orthodoxy and its emphasis on the unreliability of the natural "proofs."  Up to this point there is a certain similarity between Luther's thought and that of Kierkegaard, although, so far as I know, Luther never said that the proofs were "harmful" to faith, as Kierkegaard did.  But the new fashion in theology has reduced all religious knowledge to the level of natural theology, at least so far as intellectual certainty is concerned.  Emil Brunner, for example, says that when the church seeks for certainties she is doing something that always turns out to be disastrous.  For that reason he opposes the concept of divinely inspired, and therefore "infallible,"  doctrine.  He calls upon the church to recognize the "element of untruth which clings to every human formulation of divine truth" and the fact "that in our hands the divine revelation is always mingled with error and arrogance."  
[However]  For Luther the doctrines of faith were infallible and certain.  He would have criticized the spirit of intellectual doubt and uncertainty that neo-orthodoxy has introduced into the church much more severely than he criticized the vacillations of Cicero and the heathen.

 From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House ( All rights reserved. Reprinted with


Steve Martin said...

"For that reason he opposes the concept of divinely inspired, and therefore "infallible," doctrine. He calls upon the church to recognize the "element of untruth which clings to every human formulation of divine truth" and the fact "that in our hands the divine revelation is always mingled with error and arrogance." "

Good stuff.

Pure doctrine? No.

Pure gospel? Yes.

One has man's historical touch and one does not, and therefore is pure and infallible.

The Bible and the Word are reflective of the same principle.

Thanks for sharing, Brigitte. Good stuff!

Brigitte said...

Steve, that's Emil Brunner you are quoting, one that Becker calls a neo-orthodox, one who is being questioned here.

Steve Martin said...

Well, I happen to agree with it.

God uses the finite for His infinite purposes.

This helps keep us out of Biblicism, and dreaded drop of poison (what 'we do') in the glass of pure water.

Brigitte said...

You are a neo-orthodox!!! AAHH!

Steve Martin said...

I'm a Lutheran!

"When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scripture, and we cannot har­monize them, let them pass. It does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith."

- Martin Luther

Brigitte said...

Can you quote that more precisely, as to document? Usually Luther says something like: "The Holy Spirit does not speak so sloppily. He knows what he is saying..."

James Swan said...

Try WA 46:727.


In our calculations we must assume, as all historians do, that Christ was baptized in His thirtieth year and that He preached for three full years after that event. But He continued to preach after the expiration of the third year, from the festival of the Circumcision of Christ, or Epiphany, until Passover, which might be roughly computed as half a year. This extends His preaching ministry over a period of approximately three and one half years. Now it is possible that the event recorded in our text happened after His Baptism, at the age of thirty, during the first Passover festival of His ministry. But when it took place is immaterial. If one account in Holy Writ is at variance with another and it is impossible to solve the difficulty, just dismiss it from your mind. The one confronting us here does not contradict the articles of the Christian faith. All the evangelists agree on this, that Christ died for our sins. But in their accounts of Christ’s deeds and miracles they do not observe a uniform order and often ignore the proper chronological sequence. [LW 22:218]

Brigitte said...

Thank you, James, I see.

He is talking mostly about extraneous or peripheral things, such as what happened first, not content. That's how I take it.

When it first hit me that there were discrepancies of this nature, it did really bother me. It was a huge blow to the "inerrancy" viewpoint.

I still believe that doctrine can be 100% correct and we should strive to have that as closely as possible. And we "shall assert" that it is right (confess).

And it's not that hard to do. It is the test as Steve, would say, that the gospel remain pure. Pure doctrine--pure gospel. That's the idea.

If I have to contribute or look at myself I'm in pride or despair. This is really elementary if we know ourselves at all. From there on, all judgment of doctrine becomes easy. (Walther, "God grant it", my husband's favorite). The most humble person can judge doctrine.

Bror Erickson said...

I think maybe I need to get this book.
Steve, this is not good stuff you are quoting here. It is destructive. It is the kind of destructiveness that has led the ELCA down the primrose path you know it has gone.
In the end, what we know of Christ we know because of Scripture. If we are to follow this line of reason, we have no Christ to use against scripture, not in the sense that Luther talks. Either the Holy Spirit is able to inspire or we have no hope. If the doctrine is fallible, then we have nothing more than the baptist.
Brigitte, you have figured out who the Neo Orthodox are? Starting with Barth, the neo orthodox hinges on a distinction only possible in German between historie and Geschichte, Geschichte being a metaphysical history, that happens outside the realm of history.... yeah confusing stuff, and pure B.S. It is an attempt to safe guard the truths of Christianity by removing them from the arena of testible hypothesis. But in doing so totally undermines the hope upon which christianity is based.

James Swan said...

I think maybe I need to get this book.

It's a great book. I found it many years ago at Westminster Seminary, and quickly bought my own copy. Becker has put together a very helpful overview of Luther on "reason" and natural theology.

For us non-German speakers, unfortunately the references to Luther are to WA, so it does take me a little extra work to track down the sources in LW.

Brigitte said...

"Geschichte" is history, or a story, or even a fairy tale... well no, that would be a "Maerchen". Then people also talk about "Heilsgeschichte", "salvation" "history"? "story"?

I am not really familiar with Barth and those guys, though they have quite a following.

Anyhow, the point is made, that these people undermine the faith while they wish to promote it because we can only be sure via revelation of truth.

Where the ELCA stands is not clear to me, but when LCC and ELCIC did not merge in Canada it came basically down the view of scripture. So we are indeed divided down the middle along this fault line.

I am finding this discussion of natural theology helpful in engaging other people. The fact that it is of some value (withing the discussed limits) is still very profound.

James, you are amazing, when we need the very exact words we will get them from you. :) The context can be crucial.

James Swan said...

I plan on doing a blog entry on the quote in question. It's been used by those folks who want to argue "The Bible contains God's word." that is far different than the Bibe IS God's word.

Steve Martin said...

It's destructive tp place supreme confidence in the Word? And not in the book?

We don't need to have a perfect book (as the Muslims do).

We have a perfect God.

I find it so odd that God can use imperfect pastors, imperfect believers, imperfect bread and wine, and that He could come in the humble form of a finite man...but yet He has to have a perfect book in order for His perfect purposes to be accomplished.

No. It's not destructive at all to believe that God works the infinite through the finite. It actually is more liberating and promotes stronger faith. What faith do you even have to have if every jot and tittle in the book is inerrant? You don't need ANY!

This inerrant Bible is a relatively new doctrine. The early Christians didn't need such a doctrine and neither do we.

Brigitte said...

What faith do you even have to have if every jot and tittle in the book is inerrant? You don't need ANY!

The book is inerrant and it says that Christ rose from the dead and God is good even though the world is full of evil... (see newest post). There is tons of "faith" required to believe what is in this "inerrant" book.

It is just saying that the Bible is not telling you lies and the resurrection is fact and you faith is not some metaphysical brainwave but based on reality, reality that has been told you, revealed to the nations, what we would not have guessed, or thought by nature.

Steve Martin said...

The Word is inerrant.

The Word is infallible.

The book does not have to be. The book, the Bible, does contain God's Word.

This is how Luther could say, "If you use the Scriptures against Christ, we will use Christ against the Scriptures."

This is how Luther could say that "the book of James is an epistle of straw".

The ELCA's problems don't stem from this view of Scripture...their problem is a rejection of the Word...period.

I just put up more on the 'inerrant Bible' question on my blog.

Brigitte said...

I see it, Steve, there is a lot put up. Give us some time.

It's just the difference: it "is" the word of God or "contains" the word of God. If it contains the word of God it makes things "probable", just what we are trying to get away from.

This is how we get the Jesus seminar where people gave stones to vote on which is likely Jesus word and which is not. Man sets himself up over scripture rather vice versa.

It is not the same as a scholarly discussion as to the principles of scriptural interpretation.

It is similar to the confessions. We have either a "quia" subscription or (what's the other one ?) "as far as". You either subscribe to the confessions or you don't. If you say, as far as it is correct, as far as it is biblical, as far as it fits in historical conditions... you have denied it.

"Quia" is "because". You agree because it "is" right, not "as far" as it is right. You do not set yourself up as judge over it.

I am not a "biblicist" by some standards, but we must realize that the reformation rests on the principle of biblical authority. The Bible has held me steady when everyone else preached wrong.

Steve Martin said...


ALL of Scripture is true and it can ALL be trusted.

But that doesn't mean that because there are two versions of the flood, or that there are two versions of who showed up at the empty tomb first, or that the Bible says the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost AND in the Upper Room, etc. etc. that the message cannot be trusted. IT CAN!

God uses earthly means to do His Heavenly work.

Yes, He even uses sinful men (called pastors and preachers) to proclaim His perfect Word.

The Southern Baptist view of every jot and tittle in a book with a myriad of writers and translators of thousdands upon thousands of different manuscript fragments, having to be totally without any error, is one that I just cannot ascribe to.

Thanks, Gitte (sorry for the run on's)

Brigitte said...

Steve, I'd have a lot to say, but I'm going to a meeting and all those quotes will side occupy us quite a bit if we discuss each one, though I think this might be important to do.

I'll let this rest for now. You guys can go at it if you like.

James Swan said...

The Word is infallible. The book does not have to be. The book, the Bible, does contain God's Word.

Well, I definately nailed your position in my earlier comment.

James Swan said...

From Steve's blog:

You say Luther’s quote is out of context. I take it for what it says, just as the many other quotes from Luther regarding his high place for the Word as opposed to the ‘words’ of Scripture.

The Luther quote Steve is using is out of context.

Regards, James

James Swan said...

And by the way Steve, I'm not trying to be mean-

If by some chance, you'd like the pdf of Reu's book Luther and the Scriptures (which I mention in my blog post), I'd gladly send you the pdf via e-mail.

Regards, James

Bror Erickson said...

Luther and the Scriptures is in PDF Format public domain? Really! We need to get that out there. That book is awesome. Reu is the man.
Steve, I had been thinking about the same book for you, it would be worth it if you gave it a read through. It's short and sweet.

Brigitte said...

James, apparently we need the Reu. May we have it? XO

Steve Martin said...

James, the Bible IS God's Word.

But why does the book need to be perfect in EVERY WAY to be God's Word.

Does not God work His purposes through you?

Even Jesus was bot a product of both man and of God.

Luther understood this principle. You say that quote was out of context and we say that his quotes on innerant Bible were out of context.

When you examine the man's theology you are more apt to believe that Luther did not need an inerrant text.

His own version of the Bible ought tell us that, in that it was NOT exactly identical as others.

my e-mail address


Bror Erickson said...

Lutherans don't talk about an inerrant Bible. What we talk of is canonical holy Scripture. So this whole thing of "Luther'S" Bible is a misnomer. And actually "his" view was the accepted and common view of all scholars until the Council of Trent.
IF it is God's word it is infallible. It cannot be otherwise. It does not matter if sinful men wrote it. It is no less living for having been written down either. The Question is can God use sinful men to communicate his infallible word, and the answer is yes he can, and yes he did, and yes he does.

James Swan said...

You say that quote was out of context and we say that his quotes on innerant Bible were out of context.

Asserting you haven't taken the quote of context isn't the same as proving you didn't take the quote out of context.

If you haven't taken the quote out of context, then I must have. According to LW 22, show me where I've erred. Feel free to cite any portion of LW 22 you wish.

I've sent you the Reu pdf. I sent it to Brigitte as well, and she can forward it over to Bror (I could not find his e-mail address).

Regards, James

Brigitte said...

Thank you very much, James. I am sure you would mail to to anyone else who asks. James' e-mail is on his site.

I've printed it out, so I can underline and such.

James Swan said...

I've printed it out, so I can underline and such.

I spent alot of $$ for this book about 10 years ago. This copy is only 5 bucks (American)

In regard to Luther's view on this subject, I await Steve's argumentation.

Brigitte said...

I'd say we are in a pretty bad position when we disagree with you on Luther quotes.

Steve Martin said...


There are so many quotes by Luther talking about using Christ against the Bible and how the Word is true even if it comes from Herod or Pilate and how it may not be true (if it doesn't promote Christ, though it come from Peter or Paul).

Even if Luther did believe that every jot and tittle of the Bible is inerrant (as opposed to the inerrant Word), I would not be in agreement with him.

I still await someone who can explain to me how it is that my faith in Christ and His forgiveness for me is somehow compromised if I don't believe that all of the texts in the Bible are without error.

Brigitte said...

That Herod and Pilate quote is in the Reu. I'm half through. Did you start it.

James Swan said...

There are so many quotes by Luther talking about using Christ against the Bible and how the Word is true even if it comes from Herod or Pilate and how it may not be true (if it doesn't promote Christ, though it come from Peter or Paul).

That's besides the point. I'm interested in the quote you brought up.

Even if Luther did believe that every jot and tittle of the Bible is inerrant (as opposed to the inerrant Word), I would not be in agreement with him.

I noticed the Reu pdf I sent to you bounced back. If you're still interested in Luther's view, I can try and resend it, or Brigitte can send it to you.

Regards, James

Brigitte said...

I've resent it and it hasn't bounced so far.

Stuart Wood said...

Steve says, "I still await someone who can explain to me how it is that my faith in Christ and His forgiveness for me is somehow compromised if I don't believe that all of the texts in the Bible are without error."

1. You can't be saved without faith.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith" (Eph. 2:8).

2. Faith must be derived from the Word of God'

"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

3. Faith must know that that Word is true.

"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth... Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word" (John 17:17,20).

Where do we find the word of the Apostles, if not in our inerrant and fully trustworthy Bible?

Brigitte said...

Thanks for comment Stuart. I see you also have a site "Taking the masks off Calvinism". I will read it carefully.

I sat up late last night reading some more things about Calvin and watched a Piper video. Both kind of "played" with "confessions." Yes, Tulip, etc... Yes, we all have some trouble with it. Don't trouble yourself totally with it and have fellowship anyhow. It does not read like what Luther would call "assertions", that you actually know what you believe and why and why you can't believe anything else. Everything is a little up in the air. That's ok, they say.

Only, your salvation and ultimate questions are also up in the air. I am thinking we are back with the neo-orthodox.

I'm thinking this is why Reformed keep saying to us: oh, whatever about the Lord's Supper. Just let's have fellowship anyhow. And we say: what on earth is this? If it does not matter than why don't you confess the Lord's body with us?

Somehow they want to have a kind of big tent also. It makes no sense, and shall not compromise my confession, over my dead body, so help me God.

Steve Martin said...

"Lutherans view the Bible exactly the same way we view the Sacraments"

From this:

Just give this 5 minutes, please.

Brigitte said...

Steve, I listened to the talk.

Basically, I totally agree with the "incarnational" understanding of scripture. This is also what I learned in Christian Doctrine class and I believe it comes out of the Tuebingen school of theology, as far as the terminology goes.

On the other hand, Biblical criticism has gone way to far invoking imaginary sources, late dating of Gospels, historical conditions... People use that to come up with whatever they like. It simply stinks. As Luther would say the devil leaves a stench behind.

When you read the Bible, beginning with the creation by God, ex nihilo, through the foibles of the patriarchs, and so on, you know there is hardly anything that actually strikes one as culturally conditioned. The 10 commandments, the creed and the Lord's prayer and all the things in the small and large catechisms are hardly culturally conditioned.

The Bible is a book different from all others because it is a book about God, and he does not change. When I read it is the Holy Spirit speaking because I hear God speak about God and I can get that no where else.

When people speak about historical contexts they tend to want to justify some desire of their own: abortion is ok, women should do what they want, men should fulfill all lusts including perversions.

Most often it comes to relationship between men and women. This is always difficult, the most intimate and the most challenging. You can legislate or permit whatever you like, in the end each couple has to work with its own strengths and weaknesses to make the situation work out best for the entire family. Hence the Bible only gives general instructions such as love, respect and mutual help and submission. Women have always worked in whatever capacities that they were needed in. And what most women need is more help and rest and not a whole lot more worries and responsibilities piled on.

What I did not like in what your pastor said was that some look at the Bible as that just simply reading it is viewed as doing something divine. (I did not get the phrase right.)

Well, yes, you do, and Bror said the same thing. Reading the Bible is just this profound. You are getting God's word and this is the other half of your incarnational understanding. It is God's word, the one that divides marrow and bone. Reading your Bible is a radical thing. As Luther and (what's the name of this old famous pastor Issues, etc. interviews at times from a care homel; I have a book of sermons by him.), says, when you read your Bible pray: "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening."

Brigitte said...

You do hear God when you are reading your Bible. That's why many suggest reading it out loud, so you can actually also hear it. I think it is a good custom. Martin and I have adopted it since the Treasury of Daily Prayer. It is a different thing to read it out loud to each other than to read it by yourself. Reading by yourself, allows to think about it more, which is great, too.

Anyhow, I think Lutherans could stand to read the Bible more. There is a deficit and our President Bugbee is speaking about it constantly. And President Harrison is talking also a lot about preaching. The preaching should/could be better and how to go about that. Very, very important.

As much as we need to defend the sacraments against those who want to empty them of meaning, as much we need to appreciate the texts that have come to us and to engage in proper exegesis.

In my days growing up there was a lot of Bible studies in our fellowship circles (the "real" Christians in the state church). The emphasis on being "real" Christians did the predictable thing of my not being certain about anything regarding myself, because how did I know that I am a real Christian. ??? Can't.

But we read the Bible and that is a foundation like none other. It was only a hop to right theology once we heard it.

To try and have right theology and not the Bible is another version of cart in front of the horse.

To be honest, I think this whole use of dragging Luther in to agree with a lower view of scripture, looks like a kind of misplaced apologetic in keeping a good theology in a liberal environment. But while some may not have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, many have. And the Bible is more than the bathwater. The Bible is also the baby, as we have in the "incarnational" understanding.

If you read the Reu, you will see to which lengths Luther went to harmonize things and where he just, as usual when things don't make sense, just claps his hand over his mouth and says the Holy Spirit knew what he was saying. The problem is with our lack of understanding.

Thus much.