Fascinating quote from the Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck, from a comment by ThomasGoodwin in the thread following his own post looking at how 16th and 17th Reformed theologians viewed Lutherans. Must admit I didn’t pay all that much attention to the original post or the discussion that followed it, but these words from Bavinck leapt off the screen at me:
The difference seems to be conveyed best by saying that the Reformed Christian thinks theologically, the Lutheran anthropologically. The Reformed person is not content with an exclusively historical stance but raises his sights to the idea, the eternal decree of God. By contrast the Lutheran takes his position in the midst of the history of redemption and feels no need to enter more deeply into the counsel of God.
For the Reformed, therefore, election is the heart of the church; for Lutherans, justification is the article by which the church stands or falls. Among the former the primary question is: How is the glory of God advanced? Among the latter it is: How does a human get saved? The struggle of the former is above all against paganism – idolatry; that of the latter against Judaism – works-righteousness.
The Reformed person does not rest until he has traced all things retrospectively to the divine decree, tracking down the wherefore of things, and has prospectively made all things subservient to the glory of God; the Lutheran is content with the that and enjoys the salvation in which he is, by faith, a participant. From this difference in principle, the dogmatic controversies between them (with respect to the image of God, original sin, the person of Christ, the order of salvation, the sacraments, church government, ethics, etc.) can be easily explained.
Now, I’d prefer to say that the Lutheran thinks Christologically, rather than anthropologically. But what I found fascinating about Bavinck’s description of the difference is that both Calvinists and Lutherans could probably read his description of their respective positions and think, “Yes, and quite right too!”
From a Lutheran perspective, precisely the problem with the Reformed faith is that the Reformed Christian “is not content with an exclusively historical stance but raises his sights to the idea, the eternal decree of God”. Our desire to take our position “in the midst of the history of redemption” without feeling the need “to enter more deeply into the counsel of God” is, from our point of view, a feature rather than a bug.
In the same way, Lutherans have no problem at all with being told that we place justification at the heart of the Christian life rather than election, or that we rest “content with the ‘that'”, with enjoying the salvation in which we are, by faith, participants, rather than “trac[ing] all things retrospectively to the divine decree”.
Equally, I’m quite sure there will be Reformed Christians reading this who will find their hearts warmed by the reminder of what they love about their Reformed faith: its love for the person and attributes of God, its desire to place all things in the context of God’s grand plan of predestination, creation and redemption, its intellectual curiosity and rigour.
So all in all, I think Bavinck is on to something, there.