Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Paradox in Conversion

Becker, p. 127-134.  Quote.

The whole matter of conversion of man presents us with a series of doctrines which cannot be harmonized in a rational way.

...Man is a captive slave either to the will of God or to the will of the devil.  Thus man sins by the necessity of his nature.  This doctrine, Luther held, must stand firm against every attempt to make total depravity in any way less than total...  Thus we are all "necessarily damnable."

However, Luther is careful to point out that the necessity under which the will of man acts is not the necessity of compulsion.  Man is not forced to do evil in the same way that a murderer is forced to go to the gallows.  He acts freely.  He does what he wants to do, and he does it gladly.  But it is the will itself and the desire to do evil that he cannot control or lay aside.  A truly "free" will should be ascribed only to God.

...Why does God blame man for rejecting his grace when man is born with this attitude of rejection and cannot do otherwise?  We are not permitted to ask.  If we impertinently embark anyway on a search for the solution, it will only be a waste of time and we will never be able to find the answer.

...Contrary to Erasmus, Luther specifically rejects any solution which sees even the slightest natural difference in attitude between those who are saved and those who are lost.  We may not say that the one tried and the other did not try.  Rather, we must say that there is the same will in all.

Above all, here again we must take care not to judge God according to our reason.  We must believe that he is just, even when he appears to us to be unjust.

...Luther was correct when in the closing paragraphs of On the Bondage of the Will he said to Erasmus, that of all his enemies only Erasmus had really understood his position.  It has sometimes been said that since Erasmus was under pressure to write something against Luther he looked for some obscure point of theology in which he would not be forced to compromise his own views concerning the need for reformation in the church.  But the defense of the freedom of the will by Erasmus was much more than that.  His Diatribe struck at the very heart of Luther's theology.  Of Erasmus' attack in the Diatribe, Luther said, "You have struck at my jugular vein."  The bondage of the will, man's lack of freedom, which bore the brunt of Erasmus' attack, is a corollary of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone.  Everyone who desires to vindicate his view of God at the bar of reason must deny either man's total depravity or the universality of divine grace.  But Luther held firmly to both doctrines.  Reformed theologians often say that a man must be either a Calvinist or an Arminian--that is, he must find the answer to why some ar converted while others are not converted either in a difference  in God or in a difference in man.  A true Lutheran con only say, "A plague on both your houses!"

...But had Luther been involved in a debate with Calvin rather than with Erasmus, his argument would have taken  a completely different path, one which would have made his position even less tenable from a rational point of view...  He says that we must be on our guard against the notion that the promises of God are only for the disciples.  He died for all and eared salvation for all.  He loves all men with the highest kind of love.  Luther believed also that it is the earnest will of God to convert all men.  He said, "He wants all men to be saved, in whatever condition they may be.  Let each one therefore see how he may find himself in that all."  God comes to all men with the word of salvation.

...Luther wrote a letter of comfort to a man... who was troubled about his salvation because he was convinced that God had already elected those who are saved and that he was not one of the elect.  In his letter, Luther said that the first of these statements if perfectly true and that all things must happen according to the will of God;  but beyond that, he told him to forget all about damnation and to remember that it is God's sincere desire and intention and command that all men should be saved and made partakers of eternal joy.  Since God wants the sinners who live everywhere in the whole world to be saved, we ought to find our comfort in this doctrine and not permit foolish thoughts to separate us from his love.  When God says that we want all to come to him, no one is left out, not even the very worst, not even harlots and rascals.

Luther recognized very well that we are faced with an insoluble mystery when these doctrines are placed side by side.

... Here we are beginning to deal with the hidden God whom no one can ever know.

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

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