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I recognize that concerning the mysteries of the faith that Lutherans do not typically like to answer "how does this doctrine work?" type of questions, but I'm hoping for an explanation.

Issues, Etc. has a post on Lutheranism vs. Calvinism. I'm more or less in total agreement with the pastor on the first two of the five Calvinistic points. However, he loses me when talking about limited atonement.

At 29:37 in the audio, he begins to tell a story about a friend from seminary who was a Calvinist, and this Calvinist's need for assurance of absolution following a grievous sin. The pastor goes on to explain from 31:40 - 32:46 that because Christ has taken the form of man, that he represents all men. Every sin has been paid for, for every man.

I understand and believe this. Christ was spoken of as the last Adam, a title which confers universality (in the same way that the first Adam did). How is it that if every sin has been paid for that we are still able to speak in terms of particular redemption, meaning that some set of men will still pay for their sins in eternal hell? What makes this work? How does this doctrine mesh with Paul's argument in 1 Corinth 15:22 that in Christ, all will be made alive?

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2 Answers 2

I am not familiar with what modern Lutherans might believe, if any different from Luther, but I am very familiar with what Calvin and Luther thought. They thought the same in many ways but used different lenses. I do not see them at disagreement. They differed in emphasis and detail. Luther emphasized Christ dying for all (which Calvin also believed). Calvin emphasized election more than Luther (which Luther believed).

What makes them seem different is that Calvin speculated deeper on the subject where Luther does not really form an opinion. Calvin sees the death of sin as like physical debts. Son can’t be aid for twice, therefore sins are either paid for by Christ or by the sinner. In Calvin’s view Christ only died effectually for sin. In Luther’s Christ died provisionally for all sin and effectually only for those that receive it. In other words Christ paid the penalty and then the sinner pays, so the sin is paid for twice – under a Calvinist view of Luther.

Luther himself would not draw this Calvinistic distinction and was happier leaving something hidden behind a veil of the unknowable. The end result is the same.

As far as the recording you had linked to I do not find the Lutheran representing Luther’s view so well. Luther and Calvin both believed that our assurance comes from our belief that Christ died for sin in general, and not faith that we are ‘elect’. Both Luther and Calvin believed that if we have faith in Christ then we are ‘elect’.

The other things to remember is that Arminian thought was really not that developed while Luther was writing and even while Calvin was writing minute detailed responses to Arminian beliefs, such as that found in John Owen’s ‘Death of Death, in the Death of Christ’ treatise was not needed.

In both Luther and Calvin, they limited atonement in scope. Calvin limited more strictly in eternity but neither limited the atonement in its power by making it dependent on human effort.

But to answer the question specifically, 'How did Luther think it worked?' He didn't he did not see much value in thinking too much about things he thought were incomprehensible.

Because Luther did not think about predestination that much some of the more interesting things he said were recorded by his close friends:

No. 3655b: Speculations About Predestination Unhealthy December 25, 1537

He [Martin Luther] spoke at length about the idle people who occupy themselves with disputation about predestination beyond the limits of Scripture. It is flue most ungodly and dangerous business to abandon the certain and revealed will of God in order to search into the hidden mysteries of God.” (Luther's Works 54.249)

No. 514: Predestination Is an Impenetrable Mystery Spring, 1533

“Paul wasn’t discussing predestination322 with the Jews but was disputing only with those who opposed it and said, ‘We are the people of God, we have the fathers, the promises were given to us,’ etc. He didn’t touch upon predestination except to repudiate the righteousness of the law. Paul said that we should not preach as if we could become good by our works, our fathers, etc. These don’t help. The others, those who believe, have it just as good as those who have fathers, etc. God has decreed it so from eternity. Hence Paul attacks only this. “By grace alone are we saved. God doesn’t want to be obligated to anybody. Once we believe, he tells us (and this, too, is by grace), ‘Give, and it will be given to you [Luke 6:38]. You are bound to give in any ease, whether out of pity for the Turks or some other unfortunates, so you may just as well do it when I command it.’ We have no claim on him. So Esau and Jacob also testified to righteousness.323 “Otherwise one can’t settle the deep questions of theology, but Paul simply argues that it is by grace alone that we are saved. He meant to stick to this. Think what it means that you are not saved by the law, etc., but the Jews have works! Nobody but Christ can solve this. Hence he [Paul] said, ‘O the depth [of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,’ Rom. 11:33]!” (Luther's Works 54.90)

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A good distinction between Calvin and Luther. Calvin did seem to explore the logic of theology quite a ways more than most would. –  fredsbend Feb 16 '13 at 17:45
Thanks. Could you cite Luther on this to back your point up? I'd like to see his thought process on this, even if it is just a defense of why one shouldn't think too hard beyond what the scriptures say. –  San Jacinto Feb 17 '13 at 0:22
@SanJacinto - sure added a couple citations from Luther. These don't seem like the kinds of things Calvin would say, do they. –  Mike Feb 17 '13 at 1:16
I've upvoted. I'm not inclined to accept this as an answer, as it is not from a Confessional Lutheran perspective. –  San Jacinto Feb 19 '13 at 13:03
@SanJacinto - fair enough. Good to wait for a modern day Lutheran. I am also curious to see if it is any different from what Luther's position seemed to be. Because of the scanty references I think there is actually debate on what Luther actually believed on this point. –  Mike Feb 19 '13 at 14:21
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Funny you mention eternal hell at the end.

Let's follow two logical paths based on that and lead on toward the 'value' of Christ's atonement.

Assume the wicked spend eternity in hell, suffering for their unrepentant ways.
1) The sins of one person are worth an eternity of torment whether there be one sin or many
2) And surely more then one will suffer in hell and more then one will be redeemed for heaven
3) And an eternity of suffering is required for each because each is a sinner whether redeemed or not
4) Therefore Christ's atonement must be worth eternity of suffering times the number of sinners, which is a number that is not real and cannot compute.

Assuming hell is a place where the wicked suffer eternally for their sins cannot logically compute; infinity times anything is the same number.

Now assume the wicked do not suffer torment eternally, but are most definitely punished
1) The sins of one person are worth something and will cost that person something whether there is one sin to pay for or many does not matter
2) Christ covered that cost because he suffered for it already if you choose to accept it or not
3) Therefore, one sacrificed Lord is worth the cost of suffering for the sins of the world.

Now in my opinion it is semantic after that to say that Christ's atonement is limited or unlimited. But here is how that works for both scenarios.

Eternal Hell as punishment can give Christ limited or unlimited atonement depending on the view of freewill, predestination, etc. For the predestinationist the saved were meant to be saved and the damned were meant to be damned, hence, Christ's atonement only covers the saved and is therefore limited. For the free-will-ist, all were meant to be saved, but not all will be, hence, Christ's atonement covers all and is therefore unlimited, and chalk it up to antimony how the wicked still suffer for eternity for eighty years of sin.

Less then Eternal Hell as punishment naturally makes Christ's atonement limited, but only because of its limited use. As an analogy if you have $100 and buy something for $50 then the value of your expenditure is limited at $50, yet you could have spent $100. But that is hardly important; the point is that you spent $50. Likewise, Christ's atonement bought salvation for all.

As a side, I am pretty sure that ancient Jewish sacrifices had a value. If I recall one lamb or ram could cover the sins of ten people for a year. A dove and other lesser creatures did not necessarily covered sin, with exception of the poor, but showed God your desire to sacrifice to Him and for Him. However, there are clear examples in the OT where the sacrifice for the absolution of sins is not needed for the credit of righteousness. Most notably, "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." Compare Romans 4 and Genesis 15.

So you might now question what less then eternal hell is. I personally believe that "the wages of sin is death" as the Scripture says. John 3:16 says that to keep us from perishing Christ died for us. I can expand on this more if you want but that is beyond the scope for the answer to your question.

Disclaimer and expansion on logic of the question

Yes, my answer is largely opinion, however, I think it is well known that Lutheranism preaches eternal hell and it is hell that atonement saves from, so the discussion in my post explores the logic of both sides. The Lutheran must claim unlimited atonement because they also claim eternal hell and all might be saved. So, yes, I did sort of fail to answer the question, but that is because you cannot answer "How is something unlimited?" Instead you can only try to understand it from our limited view. Further, unlimited atonement basically means the same thing to most Christian theologies; it is not an exclusively Lutheran doctrine, which largely comes from Roman Catholicism, the oldest organized denomination.

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Not to challenge you on whether your opinion is right or wrong, but this question is about Lutheranism and its specific views on an issue. Can you show how this answer (which reads like your personal interpretation) is representative of Lutheran theology? –  Caleb Feb 16 '13 at 20:21
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