Semi-Pelagianism and “emotional blackmail”



“Emotional blackmail” was a term used on this site in a comment a while back referring to a preacher’s style.

I recently made a comment on another blog that I thought that semi-Pelagianism was the state of the Evangelical church in America (as well as Roman Catholicism), because preachers don’t know about the law/gospel paradigm and how to properly distinguish the law from the gospel in their sermons.

Another big problem is the lack of the external Word (which includes the Sacraments) which comes to us from outside of ourselves. This, I believe, is why so many preachers resort to enthusiasm. These emotional displays naturally work to stir up the law in people, that they  too, would have the proper ‘feelings’ with respect to proving the fruit of their faith.

Feelings and emotions are a good thing (or can be), but they ought not be tied to one’s assurance of faith lest they become just one more aspect of the law and a way for one to know that they truly are saved.

I know that this is the second time in a month that I have highlighted the negative aspects of a popular Christian’s preaching and teaching. I don’t plan to make it a regular feature here on this blog, as it was pointed out to me how divisive it can be.  I don’t plan on dwelling on it, but this is just another instance where I believe good intentions have gone awry.




I didn’t even mention that we (Lutherans) don’t agree with the doctrine of ‘total depravity’, wherein someone would tell their kids that “they are bad”, no matter how well they are behaving.






60 Responses

  1. Sure, he gets a little bit emotional, but I think his point is accurate and well taken. So many Christians who are on the ‘holiness project’ really don’t get the depth of original sin.

    As long as he is not (and I did not hear that in the clip) advocating pulling oneself up by his bootstraps after they finally ‘get it’ then I think he is still on target on the law/gospel division.

    Then again, searching even the nethermost regions of one’s heart, as he recommends, is a always risky undertaking, as we know what Jesus said about the condition of the heart. Perhaps, instead, he should have used the metaphor that we are to trust that we have been forgiven, washed in the blood of the lamb and made white. That way people aren’t tempted to trust falsely on something corrupted; that is, turned back on to themselves.

  2. Exactly what did you disagree with? What point was he wrong about???

    Jonathan, I agree with you that he was dividing the law and the gospel accurately.

  3. Jonathan,

    I didn’t even go into the fact that we (Lutherans) do not believe in the meat of what he says there.

    We are not bad people.

    We don’t believe in “total depravity”.

    We are certainly in bondage to sin, and do not WANT to be freed from it. We enjoy doing things our way.

    But we are a mixed bag capable of much good, as well.

    Original sin? Sure! But to tell our kids that they are “bad” is the wrong message, I believe…and the snivelly way that so many Baptist/Calvinist preachers use to employ their message to let people know that they are a real ‘serious Christian’, makes me ill.

    Your last paragraph in your comment is right on the mark.

  4. I don’t think you understand what “total depravity” means, cause any Calvinist would agree with most of what you just said (other than “We are not bad people”).

  5. Darius,

    I would never tell my kids that they are “bad” people.

    I would explain to them the correct doctrine about original sin, and point to them how everyone is compromised by sin.

    I would let them know that they ARE CAPABLE of a great deal of good in this life, and encourage them to do, and to be good at all times.

    I would never connect doing good, or being good with the gospel, or God’s love for them.

  6. I hold to Simul Iustus et Peccator; we are at the same time, saint and sinner. Sinner because we are infected with a state of original sin, fallen, broken, cannot help ourselves. Yet, we are Saints, baptized into Christ and His Death, raised by Him and with Him to new life by faith–we have put on Christ, been clothed with Christ.

    Can we do “good” and can we choose our actions? Yes, absolutely we can. But they are for our neighbor. Yet, because of our fallen nature, we are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, totally unable to help ourselves when it comes to our righteousness, our sanctification, our justification. All we can offer to God are filthy rags.

    That, I hope, is Piper’s point, to put the best construction on everything. (Though it’s kinda hard to judge where he’s going without the complete context from his sermon.) I gather he is saying is that we, including our kids, shouldn’t be fooled into standing on our works as they gain us nothing. We can’t sugar coat this–we, our kids, need Jesus. Not to give our kids a complex or send them into a fit of despair and depression, but to let them know where to place their trust–not in the pit of their heart, but in Jesus and His work, solely and completely.

    Now, should we be about doing “good works”? Absolutely. Eph 2:10 says that even our truly “good” works are the ones God has planned for us in advance to cover with Jesus’ blood. That is, whatever we think is a “good” work is only so because of Jesus’ blood.

    • Knowing the context of Piper in general since I’ve read several of his books, I am certain that was what he meant, Jonathan.

  7. I have listened to many of Piper’s talks (sermons).

    He is a self professed Baptist/Calvinist which almost always insures that in the end, the emphasis will make it’s way back to you…and what you should, ought, or must be feeling or doing as assurance of your faith.

    He knows what the gospel is. He announces the gospel, and then proceeds to get you to feel, and act a certain way, as proof that you’ve really heard it. I don’t really think he understands the very doctrines which he teaches.

    The name of his ministry says it all, ‘Desiring God’.

    He does not understand that we do NOT desire God…but that God desires us.

  8. And you don’t understand that God allows us to desire Him.. He puts a new heart of flesh where once there was a heart of stone.

  9. One more thing about Piper.

    I believe he is a very sincere and committed Christian.

    No doubt in my mind.

    He just has skewed doctrine and that is what I am criticizing. I in no way judge the man. Just his doctrine.

  10. I wonder if we are confusing the terms total depravity and utter depravity.

    TD, meaning we are rotten to the core with sin (i.e., infected to the very pit of our heart) and incapable of helping ourselves–aka “original sin.” Versus, UD, meaning totally unable to do anything “good” by any earthly standard all of the time.

    By that standard, I would agree that we fallen humans, though in a state of TD, are thankfully not by nature UD.

  11. And you don’t understand the Old Adam who still lives in us and who DOES NOT desire God.

    The Simul (as Jonathan mentioned).

    A proper understanding of the dual nature of man will go a long way towards keeping us off of the religious rat wheel, and at the foot of the cross where we belong in a daily return to our baptisms, in repentance and forgiveness. This centers around the work of Christ for sinners (real sinners) who know their need of God.

  12. Right, Jonathan.

    If we are NOT “totally depraved” creatures, but are capabale of doing good, then we ought not use that language, but instead use the language of original sin, of being born into sin and our condition of NOT desiring God.

    And then upack what all that means, and proclaim what God has done about it.

    Words do mean things, after all.

  13. “And you don’t understand the Old Adam who still lives in us and who DOES NOT desire God.”

    You’ll have to take that up with the Apostle Paul, cause he clearly indicated in Romans 7 that we can desire to obey God once we are saved.

    Piper explains Total Depravity here:

    I think you’ll see that your understanding of the term isn’t accurate… I point this out since, after all, “words to mean things.” If you don’t agree with it, show me where.

  14. “You’ll have to take that up with the Apostle Paul, cause he clearly indicated in Romans 7 that we can desire to obey God once we are saved.”


    You must be reading a different Romans 7 than the one that I read.

    “That which I ought do, I do not, and that which I ought not do, I do.”

    That’s obedience???

  15. “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

    Not my words.

  16. Oops, “words to mean things” should be “words do mean things”.

  17. I don’t trust my heart–ever, not even whatever I may find way down there in the very bottom of it.

    For out of the heart comes all manner of evil, Jesus said so. cf Matt 15:19.

    So please just give me Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection FOR me, please. Please, give me the means of grace.

    If that is Piper’s point, then OK. Now, if he’s insisting that he wants ME to dredge it up out my intestinal fortitude, well then, sorry, it ain’t gonna happen. It can’t.

  18. So then, stop sinning.

    You desire to stop? Then stop.

    The trouble is this….you, and I, and everyone else do NOT really want to stop. We like living as we want to live.

    If we really wanted to stop sinning, then we would.

    The Old Adam (in you) wants to sin. The new man’s desires are unable to be realized (here), but isn’t that why Christ died for us?

    Isn’t that why St. Paul says that we should consider ourselves “dead to sin”?

    Isn’t that why St. Paul says that “all who have BEEN BAPTIZED have put on Christ”? (my emphasis, of course)

    The trouble with Baptist/Calvinist preachers is that they internalize everything and shift the onus back onto the sinner.

    That is what irks me about them so much. They create little self-righteous Pharisees by placing so much emphasis on how we ought act and feel.

    That we are incapable of feeling, or acting the way we ought (because of sin) is the much better, and Biblical tack. And then announce the gospel.

    Way too much of the sinner, and way too little of Christ in Evangelicalism.

  19. You’ll have to take that up with the Apostle Paul, cause he clearly indicated in Romans 7 that we can desire to obey God once we are saved.

    Hey, wow! Cooperation with grace. Sounds, I dunno, maybe like RCism. Infusion anyone?

  20. You guys attempt to make compelling arguments, yet you just ignore Paul in Romans 7. I find it kinda funny. Odd that I can quote Scripture that undermines your view and rather than address it, you keep promoting your doctrine.

    Remember that little Scripture in the OT where God says He’s going to put a new heart in us? When do you think that happens?

  21. Darius,

    He does put a new heart in us. It is Christ’s!

    We walk by faith, not by sight!

    We trust that God is at work in us, despite the ragings of the Old Adam.

    And again, I always like to ask, “how are you doing?” (with that new heart?)

    Are you living up to what God expects? Are you on some upward escalator, slowly getting better all the time?

    Or…are you like me? On a roller coaster of faith and faithlessness, constantly falling short?

  22. Scripture in the OT where God says He’s going to put a new heart in us? When do you think that happens?

    We used to say it in the liturgy of the divine service on non-communion Sundays. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me….”

    Jesus covers our sinful hearts; I don’t create it or build it, fix it, patch it, etc. Only he does it, on account of his atonement, not my atonement, not my cooperation.

    Simul Iustus et peccator. All Him all the time; none of me ever.

  23. “Are you living up to what God expects? Are you on some upward escalator, slowly getting better all the time?

    Or…are you like me? On a roller coaster of faith and faithlessness, constantly falling short?”

    Both, because my flesh and my God-given heart are at war. Both, because while my flesh is in rebellion, I don’t deny the power of Christ to change my life in the here and now.

  24. I don’t deny it, either, Darius.

    It’s a matter of emphasis.

    Emphasis on us (internalize the Word)…or emphasis on Christ…and what He has done, is doing, and will yet do…the external Word.

  25. The emphasis is always on Christ, particularly in Piper’s sermons and books.

    And when He returns, He’ll probably tell us both “you foolish believers, arguing over semantics.” 🙂

  26. OK, my friend.

    Maybe we can chew on each other’s words for a bit.

    Off to do chores on my day off!

    Thanks for the discussion.

    Please feel free (anyone) to add something else when it comes to mind.

  27. I don’t deny the power of Christ to change my life in the here and now.

    Yup, like, “Before I decided to accept Jesus, I used to do X, now I started doing Y.” Yeah but–Is that where your assurance is? Even just a wee little bit? Otherwise, how is that not a ‘boast’ ala Eph 2:8-9?

  28. No boasting involved, but at the same time, 2 Peter 1 tells us to “make our election sure.”

    “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

  29. 2 Peter 5-11 is totally consistent with Eph 2:8-10. “Peter’s” (authorship debatable) point is, in essence, (v9) “don’t forget where your election comes from–Jesus shed blood alone cleanses totally and completely.” Don’t make your election sure in works.

  30. I think where Lutherans would disagree with Piper here in these short three minutes, isn’t so much on the sinfulness of man, original sin and all that. Perhaps I would not say it the way Piper did, about your child being bad, I tell mine he is a good kid, every chance I get. But perhaps this is just semantics. I also teach my son that he is a sinner, and therefore he sins. Not that he sins therefore he is a sinner. But you have to be very careful, I think, in how you do this with a child.
    I think where we would disagree with Piper here is in his whiny Emotionalism, and in his insistence that we have claw our way through the cesspool of our heart to find Christ’s blood at the bottom of it.
    First off, if you aren’t a believer there is no blood of Christ to be found there, and the better place to look for it as a Christian is the altar rail, where Christ gives it to us. But Repentance isn’t primarily something we do, but something that is done to us. Our sins are to be exposed through the preaching of the law first, and then second perhaps through self reflection as the Holy Spirit uses the law on us, to show us that out of the heart come evil thoughts etc.. But then the gospel ought to be preached. If people aren’t rejoicing enough in the Gospel, perhaps it isn’t that hey haven’t reflected on their hearts enough, but that the law hasn’t been preached to them in an effective way.

  31. You’ve nailed it Steve!

    This is precisely why the two religious paradigms cannot communicate because they are speaking two different religions.

    This point cannot be lost: Lutheran’s must clarify that “total depravity” as espoused by Calvin is not the same as “’bondage of the will” as espoused by Luther, the difference is linked to the extra nos gospel sacraments (Luther) and the “can’t fall away” (Calvin) scenario in which a “Christian” can no longer truly assess that his works are deadly sin separating him from the very grace of God. That is a truly non-deadly sin or work (venial) is a sin or work that is confessed as deadly and a truly deadly sin or work is one not so confessed. This is impossible for the “crossed the line” once saved always saved crowd in whatever form it takes. The Christian in that paradigm does not exist “in baptism” in the ever present and consequently “simul Justus et peccator” under Calvin is understood entirely different than under Luther, same term different animal.

    As recent conversation I had with a Baptist pastor friend of mine when it became clear to him that “no work”, zero, nadda, not even an appeal to “I have faith” can prove or comfort that “one is saved” and we can in fact fall away by rejecting grace most particularly with pious things…it stunned him and finally donned on him, the Law struck a real nerve and he frightened asked, “Well then how do you know (according to the Lutheran confessions and Luther being implied”. My answer was very simple, “Now you are beginning to see the real grace of God the Cross and what faith really is…the answer is the extra nos truly Gospel sacraments that come down and touch each of us individually with are real GIFT of FOR YOU/ME. That’s how you know and now you are beginning to “feel” what it means to really nakedly exposed trust alone in Christ alone for the ENTIRE GOSPEL is utterly outside of us, and so are the sacraments.”

    Steve you are spot on in this post. Your quote here captures it, this is the very reality, “
    Another big problem is the lack of the external Word (which includes the sacraments) which comes to us from outside of ourselves. This, I believe, is why
    so many preachers resort to enthusiasm.”

    It’s not just another big problem it is THE problem. Everyman must necessarily know how is it “pro me”. If one removes the external extra nos gospel of the sacraments ALL one is left with is going back inside, hence enthusiasm (the god withinness) that is shared by Anabaptist, Baptist, Wesley, Rome, Pelagious, Arminians, Calvinist, pagans…you name it. And therein lay the hidden synergism. The “inward turn” in whatever form it takes becomes the enthusiast “sacrament”, if he can fool himself long enough to find it…and its all over the maps what is “proof” for one guy is not proof for another guy, one list is longer than the other, all are utterly subjective and ambiguous, not one consistent from one denomination to the next nor even church to church within one denomination. Utter confusion, that’s why it stays at the vague and generic level when “pinned down” for an answer “for the hope that you have”. Conversely the sacraments are specific.

    The reason the real Law is never preached in such churches and buffered often by the “can’t fall away” paradigm is because if it where really preached it would have the above effect and shatter all such false idols and gods.

    I was reading Nestigen yesterday, a piece on the fundamental difference between Luther and Melanchton/Calvin on the end of the Law to the believer. One short quote grabbed me that is apropos to this and the distinguishing mark between Luther and Calvin (and all others). He pointed out that the ministry is not just a work whereby just a more or less message is given, content, but that the minister (server) is there to actually give the gifts of Christ (absolution, and sacraments). It is such that Christ is not just represented by the pastor but actively speaks through him (assuming the pastor is not speaking something else of his own). In short in as much as the Gospel is purely preached and the sacraments given according to Christ’s institution, the Word, literally, is speaking and thus a “living Word”.

    The sacraments are also why in such churches the pastor only really “represents” Christ and is not actually Christ speaking, a representative supper begets a representative authority and a representative church style. That’s different than Christ ACTUALLY speaking and why the Sacraments according to Christ’s institution are so important in Lutheran worship. Because only then is the pastor actually Christ truly speaking, when he goes to or implies via the churches official sign/symbol/representation doctrine on the supper, then he no longer is Christ speaking but a mere man speaking a mere man’s false religion. THAT is following another man’s teaching.


  32. Hmmm….A great round of R2, am not, R2, am not, R2, am not, R2, am not, R2, R2…wait? RI or RI not….?!? *; D

  33. On the very question of “The Question of the Church’s Unity on the Mission Field” 1946, Hermann Sasse writes and correctly observes:

    “What would have happened if in the second century Basilidians, Valentinians, Macionites and Catholics, Montanists, Theodotians and Modalists had had a roundtable discussion and said this: For the sake of missions, let us bury the war hatchet. As followers of Jesus we desire nothing other than to follow the Master, to build one church in which everyone may carry on his particular tradition within the realm of a common truth, over against the one Lord of the one church. What would have come of the church of the fourth and fifth centuries if, for the sake of the mission task, it had not battled through the Arian and Nestorian controversies, if Arian, Homousian, Nesttorian, Monophysite, Pelagian, and followers of Augustine had allowed themselves simply to be united in one great ecclesiastical communion? This question is posed in order to find the only answer which can be given to it: Today the church would simply no longer exist. The church would have been ruined. Just as a man whose kidneys no longer eliminate poisons which have accumulated in the body will die, so the church will die which no longer eliminates heresy.

  34. One way to look it this is to ask the sacramentless person, “How is it that YOU in particular know you are saved?” Aside from rank universalism that question must be answered else all such arguing is incredulous at the highest level, like attempting to argue with a recalcitrant man standing next to you as both stare at the blue sky and he insists its green in color.

    So we ask that question, “If you concur that you are not an enthusiast and the entire Gospel is extra nos (outside of you) then what is that thing (fill in the blank(s)) by which YOU in particular know you are saved (similarly: elect, reborn, born again truly, have true saving faith)?” Let’s also make sure we close a few doors like an oft used Calvinist theological escape hatch and clarify the question we are asking by saved we mean that (using Calvinist lingo) God a given (GIVEN) to you (IN PARTICULAR) His grace…wait for it…here it is…EFFECTIVELY and not ‘sufficiently’”.

    To clarify the criteria of the question how is it specifically know that you:

    1. You in PARTICULAR as opposed to mass humanity are saved,
    2. That God has IN FACT not theory GIVEN you said grace,
    3. EFFECTIVELY not sufficiently (to speak Calvinese).

  35. @theoldadam – The only way you can say that Lutherans don’t believe in total depravity is if you redefine the term to mean something ridiculous (like rebuking a child for being obedient). And then you’re not speaking on behalf of Lutherans, you’re speaking on behalf of your own weird opinions about what “total depravity” means.

    Luther wrote “the bondage of the will” and always held to total depravity — his doctrine in this point was almost indistinguishable from Calvin. And modern Lutheranism doesn’t depart from Luther on this manner. You’re right that there are differences about predestination and grace, but it’s completely wrong to say that Lutherans don’t believe in total depravity.

  36. The Lutherans that I hang around with do not believe in total depravity.

    We realize (and rightfully so) that we are capable of doing a great deal of good in this world. If we were totally depraved, we would not be able to do any good at all.

    We also believe that we are totally in bondage to sin, and that all are righteous deeds are filthy rags.

    ‘Simul iustus et peccator’ – totally sinful, and yet totally justified.

    We are a mixed bag. For righteousness sake, nothing that we do is good enough. I’m sure that is what Piper (and Calvin, and many others mean), but it is more accurate to state it the way I have (I believe).

  37. Again, Steve, stop using total depravity when you mean utter depravity. We already went over this, you clearly hold to total depravity, you just want to be contrarian. You keep describing utter depravity, but you can’t let go of the “total depravity” term because then it would show you might actually agree with Calvin on something (gasp 🙂 ).

  38. Oh boy…

    Total means total…no?

    I don’t like Calvinist terms (or theology).

    I like to be more accurate than that. 😀

  39. If you’re honestly trying to be accurate, then use the terms that virtually all Christians have agreed to. See here for just one of many examples you can find if you do a little digging.

    You’re the only one on here, Lutheran or not, who hasn’t recognized the difference. I assume it’s because you want to stir up dissension… which isn’t a good reason to be inaccurate.

  40. Darius,

    I really don’t care who used what terms in the past.

    The term is inaccurate.

    Calvin and Piper and whomever else, may be ‘totally deprived’…but I’m not…and I know many who are not.

    We were born in sin. We are sinful. We are unable to choose God of our own volition, but we are NOT totally depraved in that we are capable of doing good things for our fellow human beings.

    I have to run (Wed. night Lenten service)…but I’ll check out your link later tonight.

    Thanks, D.!

  41. Wow, I thought you were just mistaken about what Lutherans believe, and mistaken about what “total depravity” means. However, it now becomes clear that you *knowingly* used the word incorrectly, and *knowingly* misrepresented what Lutherans believe.

    Are you serious? You were doing this *deliberately*? Why would you do that? I’ve been following your blog for how long, and you just lie for your own entertainment, or for some other weird agenda? I’m very upset about this. If you’re going to use terms dishonestly, you should add a disclaimer.

    And what is this about “capable of doing good things for our fellow humans”? Are you insinuating that Baptists or Calvinists believe that humans are incapable of doing good things for our fellow human beings? Or is this just another case of you pretending to be ignorant/mistaken in order to deceive your readers? This is very sick entertainment; it makes me far less likely to consider *anything* you say to be sincere in the future.

  42. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Joshua here. It’s not fair to your readers or Calvinists to pretend like you disagree with them when you don’t on this particular issue. I’ve never found you to be disingenuous before… a contrarian perhaps, but at least honest.

  43. First off, I’d like to say that I completely understand what you are saying that when it comes to “good works” we are incapable of them (as per our righteousness) as the perfect demand of the law requires.

    OK? We agree there.

    I am just not a fan of that language (total depravity) UNLESS it is properly parsed out, and I don’t think that it always is.

    I’m not a fan of telling kids that they are bad…if they are being good. I’m not sure a kid (it depends on the kid) can quite understand the concept.

    Are we totally bad, as far as our good works can justify us? Of course we are. You used the term “utterly depraved” . That is exactly what we are as far as our good works are concerned.

    But, our works are needed…by the neighbor. Inasmuch as they help the neighbor and protect the neighbor…they are “good”.

    They called Luther, ‘Dr. Good Works’.

    Like so many issues we discuss here, it is a matter of emphasizing the right sy-ll-ab-le.

    And I guess I didn’t do a very good job of it.

  44. Darius,

    I thought that you thought that WE COULD make a decision for Christ.

    I will agree with Joshua and yourself and Piper and Calvin, Luther, etc. total depravity is acceptable terminology for describing man and his ability to DO anything that is “good” in the eyes of God.

    Making a decision for Christ is included in that depravity, and therefore…it cannot be done…until after God makes His decision for us. Even then, from our end it is weak, compromised, and depraved. That is why the Lord has to constantly lead us to repentance and keep us in His faith.

  45. Steve,

    You understand Luther correctly it is Joshua who does not in the least. Bear with me and I’ll show you. Luther and Calvin, much less Dort and much much less Owenian Calvinist did not believe in the same on how ever you name it, total depravity, utter depravity or bondage of the will. And it is crystal clear in Luther’s writings in bondage of the will and most poignant in his landmark Heidelberg Disputation and the reason the two religions separate, at the end of the day on the sacraments. Luther and thus Lutheran bondage of the will and “use of the term total depravity” does NOT mean the same thing as Calvin’s (really Dort’s) total depravity and use of Luther’s term “bondage of the will”.


    Luther believed in “total depravity” but did not believe in total depravity as espoused by Dort and that is crystal clear in bondage of the will and if that is not crystal clear it is crystal clear in his HD. I’m not saying he didn’t believe in the “total and absolute bondage of the will”, but that rather total depravity as espoused pre term by Calvin and official later by Dort is NOT bondage of the will and therefore NOT really “total depravity”. It is entirely distinguishable from Calvin and the HD irrefutably shows this.

    If you don’t understand this you really don’t understand Luther. For in his critical thesis on this bondage of the will he utilizes the Roman mortal/venial system. Both Rome and Luther used the term “mortal” sin to mean that which makes a man fall away from Christ and thus grace and conversely a “venial sin” as that which is committed whereby one does not fall away from grace and is thus not separated from God savingly. But Luther redefines it from Rome and thereby defines a mortal sin or deadly sin in this way; a truly mortal sin is a sin (or work) whereby one does not confess or know it to be mortal, and a truly venial sin (or work) is one whereby one confesses it to be mortal. Thus, the believer is ever in the humble state of confessing his deeds, ALL OF THEM, such that he confesses as God confess, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner”. Here we begin to see the critical difference between Luther and Calvin and just why they are two separate religions. For the state of the Christian lay in this real reality that one can fall away, but how? Not due to the egregiousness of sin, but that one no longer thinks, even by the power of so called grace, that something he does is sin. As Lutheran theology Forde points out commenting on this section of the thesis, “we never really tire of using the Law to withhold us from grace”, which goes all the way back to thesis one and two on the Law. Here we see what Luther means by bondage of the will, the will literally is bound to what it desires and it desires, in a word, self salvation and THAT is the true TOTAL DEPRAVITY of the inwardly curved man in ALL that he does externally, good or evil. The theologian of the Cross says what a thing is, the theologian of glory calls good evil and evil good.

    In Calvin’s theology there is no such thing for once one “converts” (is reborn) and “crosses that line” INTO the elect that cannot fall away (something Luther and Lutheran confessions CLEARY do not believe and refute) one. This is supposedly the sine quo non of Calvinistic assurance and EVERY true Calvinist says this, I know I was one. This is the crux of Calvinistic theology, in fact it’s the “P” in TULIP. No Calvinist will ever say, and still be a Calvinist, that one elect, the truly saved, truly reborn, truly converted can fall away. Thus, the believer does not lay in a state in which he can in reality of his mind fall away. He is either elect or he is despairing that he may not be elect and thus reprobate. Therefore, the concept of a mortal or deadly sin that can make a true believer fall away from the grace of God in and of itself is utter nonsense to the Calvinist, much less Luther’s explanation of what a true mortal and venial sin is. For the elect cannot fall away, EVER. And beliefs, true or false have consequences. Thus, the Calvinist cannot confess his post conversion sins (or works) as truly deadly sin, the concept does not exist for him. He thus confesses sin in a more or less pretend way, not sin that can make one fall a way and cry out for the grace of God, but a kind of more or less “sin stained life/existence”. A kind of “yea I sin and I willingly admit it, but not so much that I could fall away, after all I’m elect and so there is some good in my works that I give credit to grace (really infused grace). This kind of confession is no different that I just heard from an unbeliever, “No I admit I’m not perfect…”. And thus, in Calvinistic theology, no true confession is had, and the Law is used, secretly, as a shield against the very true grace of God (what Forde said), the very thing Luther warned of.

    In fact in warning Rome against their quasi distinction of what is the difference between a dead work and deadly work Luther warns as folly and truly deadly, “…this seems to be perilous surrender of the fear of God”. This too warns against Calvinism that has its same version of Rome’s dead/deadly it usually goes unnamed however. Because the Calvinist now must deal with the warnings in Scripture but he cannot say “the saved fall away” (the “P” in TULIP). Thus the individual Calvinist is set on to the determination of “which am I…elect or reprobate”, the so called assurance goes out the window when the honest Calvinist lay person seriously hears the Law. So the unofficial dead/deadly or quasi mortal/venial distinction begins to be made. However those “terms” are cast into a Calvinistic light since, again, the elect cannot fall away. They end up with a system that functions precisely as Rome’s tormenting mortal/venial, they just don’t have a “can fall away category”, so though functionally the same, the system is cast more in terms of “how I determine if I’m elect or not or similarly which side of election am on in this ever present moment I exist in and reflect on my life and evidentiary works.” This is papal crucible of Calvinism!

    In a twist of irony when rebuking John MacArthur’s (a Baptist Calvinist) book “The Gospel According To Jesus”, Luther leaning Calvinist, whom I dearly love, Michael Horton picks up on this almost inadvertently in a section where MacArthur is trying to help the believer determine the “am I elect ever or now” question. And MacArthur, like John Piper and much like any good Calvinistic Baptist that has not gone completely over to John Gill begins this hair splitting sin/works assessment (the Calvinistic version of the Roman dead/deadly, mortal/venial) – and attempts (in vain I might add) to say what sin or works might mean yea or nea as to election. Dr. Horton points out in a moment not connecting all the dots that, “…this sounds dangerously like the Romes mortal/venial sin system” (paraphrase from memory). He saw part of the effect of the problem, just didn’t connect all the dots, because to actually connect the dots one must realize, Calvin was dead wrong and functionally no different than Rome.

    Thus, in the conscience of the Roman Catholic or Calvinistic Protestant, they end up the same. The laity are not idiots, they HEAR what the theology of their system says and where it ultimately points them to assurance and where it ultimately does not. So, the laity in their consciences end up in the crucible of the dead/deadly or mortal/venial sin/works (as Rome defined it) to attempt to see if they have fallen away from so called grace, just as the Calvinist laity ends up in the crucible of their less formally labeled but nonetheless functionally the same sin/works determination system not to find out “have I fallen away from grace”, but am now (best case) or I elect in the first place at all (worse case, which is where the best case ultimately leads). Thus, both lay Roman Catholics who despair of hope (I’ve fallen away) and Calvinist who despair of hope (I must not be elected) rake themselves to exhaustion of their sins and works as they define them. The Wesleyan/Arminian system is exactly the same it just shifts the furniture in the room a bit from Calvin as Calvin did from Rome. Or one has Roman Catholic in their system or Calvinist in their system, fooling themselves thinking they are pulling it off. How? The RC assesses “this work and that work is acceptable and this sin and that sin is not mortal, but venial”, and the Calvinist must assess “this work and that work is acceptable and this sin and that sin is not so bad that I’m not elect but in fact elect.” The very opposite of Luther and his warning, “…the perilous surrender of the fear of God” and “truly falling away from grace”, or as Forde put it “the old Adam never tires of using the Law to fend off for himself the very grace of God”. Which is the essence of the bondage of the will and what Luther and Lutherans mean when they might use the term “total depravity”, but NOT the Calvinist.

    In fact Luther drives this point home, the true bondage of the will, in the later thesis of his HD when he states that “…no TRUE comfort may be had unless all works are thoroughly slain by the Cross” (paraphrase from memory). Meaning this, the true release, comfort, faith and assurance final comes when the “hilarity” of the Gospel hits us and “has us” (to use some of Forde’s language on this. That it is true in all my sins and works they are nothing but deadly and mortal sins (the utter/total/complete bad news) and by them I deserve nothing but death, hell, law and the wrath of God, this is true, “have mercy on me a (true and real) sinner – YEAH BUT, what of it, “there is one Who died in my place and his name is Jesus Christ the Son of God, where He is there I will be also” (to quote Luther from a pastoral letter). Blessed are the sacraments indeed whereby true assurance of forgiveness of sin is had to and for me in particular, the Word of God not just in message but in action, given and bestowed by Christ through a man (pastor) to me. The Gospel release comes when it is seen that all sin and works are deadly and honest confession before God can finally be made, and one falls into not hell but the very bosom of Christ Himself.

    Which is why we ask the question, again, so that honesty can be discovered:

    1. “If you concur that you are not an enthusiast and the entire Gospel is extra nos (outside of you) then what is that thing (fill in the blank(s)) by which YOU in particular know you are saved (similarly: elect, reborn, born again truly, have true saving faith)?” Let’s also make sure we close a few doors like an oft used Calvinist theological escape hatches and clarify the question we are asking; by saved we mean (using Calvinist lingo) that God has given (GIVEN) to you (IN PARTICULAR and not the general mass of humanity) His grace… EFFECTIVELY and not ‘sufficiently’”.
    To clarify the criteria of the question how is it specifically know that:
    1. You in PARTICULAR as opposed to the general mass of humanity are saved,

    2. That God has IN FACT not theory GIVEN (God and God’s action not just message) you said grace, and

    3. EFFECTIVELY not sufficiently.


  46. Why is it that trust in word and sacrament as means of grace and thus as the only EFFECTIVE assurance is such a difficult concept?

    Really–I don’t get it. Do you think it is at odds with the puritanical concepts of hard work being a self-made man that are the hallmarks of society?

    The Means of Grace properly understood are akin to a spiritual “welfare state.” I guess I am a lazy welfare recipient.

  47. Larry,

    Thanks for your detailed explanation of Lutheran vs. Calvinistic view of ‘total depravity’.

    I’m getting ready to go to work and am not able to spend enough time with it this morning. (I need to read it again). I appreciate your efforts!

    I do want to say, though, that as much as Joshua and Darius (and others) were defending the language, and normal and accepted use of the term, they had every right to criticize me.

    I said a few things that were maybe a bit off, it not wrong.

    But, like I said, I’ll re-read your comments and maybe change my mind…again!

  48. Jonathan,

    I think you are right. It’s part of our DNA as Americans to be rugged individualists.

    Plus, that Old Adam will not let go of the self-justification project.

    I, too, am a lazy welfare recpient (when I’m at my best) 😀

  49. Well, if I follow Larry about Calvin and RC versions of election and mortal/venial sins, vs. what Luther’s bondage of the will teaches, I am left to conclude that Luther’s version of “bondage of the will” is really the only one that truly amounts to “total depravity” in the sense that we stand truly condemned on account of our sinful condition. In other words, our original sin makes us “rotten to the core” as far as our ability to do anything spiritually “good” or EFFECTIVE on our own. The Calvinist’s ‘sure election’ and RC’s ‘mortal/venial’ system stand in opposition and reach a different conclusion–although they pay lip-service to “total depravity”–they actually conclude that we’re not THAT bad off.

    I get the distinction in our liturgy of corporate confession:

    “O, Almighty God, I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee….
    “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves….”

    So, in that sense, I am still not phased by Piper’s statement that we are “reeeeally baaaad” and our kids are too. But, I’m still unable to tell where he goes with it though.

    • Bingo Jonathon.

      To your question about why not the sacraments. I think Steve fundamentally nailed it a few weeks ago, several posts ago when he basically stated that it’s not the “sacraments” per se, nor even infant baptism per se, but the real and true grace of God being rejected. I.e. the implications of infant baptism and implications of the real and true body and blood and implications of a true and real absolution by God through the pastor’s mouth IS the Gospel and IS the real Grace and IS forgiveness of sin. And basically that is what is disdained, they do not want to here nor have anyone else hear “I GOD forgive you of all your sins”. Rather they’d like bind you once again into to their law quicksand, what Paul warned of in Galatians.

      Prisoners want EVERYBODY else in their jail cell and hell with them, especially the free. They are like the rich man who loved his hell and wanted Lazarus to come to hell to give him a drink of water, but there is a great gulf fixed that cannot be bridged.


  50. @Larry

    This is why theoldadam gets confused about the terms. You’re pretending to talk about “total depravity” and instead talking about why you disagree with the Calvinist’s position on unconditional election and perseverance of the saints.

    I do understand where you’re coming from. You feel that Calvinist position on the other soteriological points renders the claims about “total depravity” to be lukewarm. I get that, and I can sympathize. As a Calvinist, I’ll admit that all of that other stuff is a bunch of semantic quibbling and can make Calvinists look ridiculous.

    But the point is that the professed Calvinist position on “total depravity” is identical to, or even a touch weaker than that professed by Lutherans. Even Arminians believe in total depravity.

    You can argue that Lutherans’ belief in total depravity is more authentic, and I might even agree. You can also point out that Luther stayed away from fruitless semantic quibbling about the other points, which I would also laud. However, you cannot say (as theoldadam did say) that Lutherans believe in a weaker form of depravity than Calvinists, or that Calvinists think that total depravity prevents people from doing good deeds for one another.

    Now, to be fair, Calvinists make the same sort of dishonest arguments based on what they assert the other system entails (e.g. those Arminians don’t believe in sovereignty of God) and so do Arminians (e.g. those Calvinists believe that God is the author of evil). Maybe they both deserve it, because they got to detailed with stuff that they should’ve left alone, like Luther did. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at your use of the logical entailment argument to mischaracterize Calvinism. I still think it’s shady and not very irenic, but that wasn’t the source of my objection.

    My objection, quite simply, was that theoldadam was asserting something very different. He was saying that Calvinists don’t believe people are capable of doing good things for each other (like Christopher Hitchens’ silly conundrum), and that Lutherans don’t hold to any doctrine of total depravity (or at least a lesser doctrine). You opportunistically used this to tee off your own personal jabs, but you effectively refuted both of his points that I objected to.

    And really, it’s fine for you to argue that way, if it’s clear that you’re just arguing. I though theoldadam was just confused or mistaken (and he sort of was).

    • Joshua,

      A point of clarity, because its simply not true. I am NOT talking about WHY “I” disagree with Calvinist. That’s simply not true, I AM talking about total depravity. It may be very well that you don’t really understand Calvinism as you may think you do.

      If one cannot examine the whole of the system, one really does not understand it. And I merely was expounding the system, within reasonable limits given the time and space to do so, in order to show the difference that exists not on some superficial level of words but deep within the entire tapestry.

      It’s not unusual that some professing Calvinist, especially a so called Calvinistic Baptist, something John Calvin himself would have seen as an utter contradiction in terms. As Mueller and other doctrinal Calvinist have well pointed out to such, Calvinism is more than “just the TULIP and that the TULIP is an entire system that functions as a whole without which it is no longer THAT system and cannot rightly be called Calvinism or even the “TULIP” as Dort expounded. Here they are simply being consistent much like Luther and at least understood that that which professes to be the true confession of Christianity (from a “neutral” perspective without siding specifically in order to see the principle) is a whole unity of which if you alter it you ruin it. Though in practice they don’t practice it that way even though they might expound it that way. In other words no baptist IS a Calvinist in ANY sense of the word, TULIP or other wise. A confessing Calvinist would say that not even a self labeled “Reformed” or “Calvinistic” Baptist is either of those adjective terms because the system not parts of it make up the confession. In simple terms one cannot cherry pick the TULIP or the WCF and combine it with other things producing a boutique labeled “Reformed” or “Calvinistic” Baptist and the LBCF.

      Thus one cannot speak of the “T” in isolation and expect to see just what is actually meant by “Total Depravity” in one system verses labeling what is otherwise mostly called in a system “bondage of the will” as “total depravity”. It’s not about names per se or semantics or labels, but what is meant underneath the identity. That’s why Paul warned to beware of other- “christs”, “gospels” and “spirits”, because other false religious systems can hide underneath those names, wolves in sheep’s clothing, antichrists that look like lambs but speak as dragons. At least with Buddha a Christian clearly knows were he stands, with heterodoxy the deadly poison is within and under the name “Christian”. To borrow from Patton, “I’d rather have Islam in front of me than any heterodoxy behind me.”


  51. Joshua A.,

    “a weaker form of depravity”, I missed that part! No I’m arguing that Lutherans believe in not just a “stronger” total depravity, but the ONLY REAL total depravity or to put it another way shear and pure bondage of the will. I do not agree that Lutherans hold to a weaker total depravity.

    By the way, its not semantics, its a matter of clarity which begets at the end of the day two seperate religions, not just two diverging opinions. To put it another way I concur with Luther that Zwingli and Bucer (and by extension) Calvin is of another spirit period.

    AND NONE of this, NONE OF IT, is to simply make Calvinist look ridiculous. Beliefs have consequences and mean things. It really is as simple as Luther once said addressing the increasing “cover language” of his day concerning the LS when false teachers would hide behind “real presence” sounding terms (which is deception by definition), “…ask the minister what it is that he puts into your mouth”. Truth speaks forthrightly and truthfully, while falsehood hides under words and thus falsehood cries wolf that truth is being too harsh for uncovering falsehood’s lies in the first place.

    Thanks for that clarification, I missed that in reading through all the posts, my mistake.


    • a weaker form of depravity”, I missed that part! No I’m arguing that Lutherans believe in not just a “stronger” total depravity, but the ONLY REAL total depravity or to put it another way shear and pure bondage of the will. I do not agree that Lutherans hold to a weaker total depravity.

      Thanks for that clarification, I missed that in reading through all the posts, my mistake.

      Cool, that’s what it seemed like. And IMO, that wasn’t a minor point; it was *the* point. So I was really surprised when you said “Steve, you nailed it”, and then said the exact opposite of him. 🙂

      My comments about you “disagreeing with Calvinism” were simply my way of saying that you were perhaps so eager to lash out against a “false doctrine”, that you used the ongoing context as a pretext without really understanding what people had said.

      Now, having said that, I am very interested in your exposition of Lutheran views on Calvinism. As I mentioned, I knew that Luther was clear about depravity, but I always thought he stayed away from the other stuff as a matter of principle. Also, I think I mentioned that I find the Arminian and Calvinist positions on ULIP to be a lot of semantic quibbling. At the moment, I wouldn’t agree that either explanation is “false gospel”, since both sides are essentially lying when they say that the other’s position “entails” some slippery slope that they know down well their opponents wouldn’t agree with. But I *do* tend to feel that both Arminian and Calvinist explanations on ULIP are superfluous and silly. I suppose that makes me receptive to your arguments about Lutheran views on the matter. I would certainly like to learn more. Do you have any pointers for further reading?

  52. Hey Joshua,

    I suppose I do come off as pretexting but I really never am, I see the understanding of a whole system key and crucial, so I tend to explain (to a length fault I suppose) rather than offer a quick quip in response. I’ve a lot of experience of being in the room with a lot of differing people, not speaking of church necessarily here, to get to an end goal or project. People of all backgrounds and etc… And I’ve noted that many times either disagreements and/or presumed “concord” (later discovered to be not so) are due to walking away from the conversation too soon and not enough was said about what X or Y means. My “goal” if you will is really simply, “Hey let’s be honest, let’s be honest and understand we are really not talking of the same thing so we will not be able to peal apart the honest disagreement or presumed concord.”

    I do this in the theological realm not to “be right” all the time or “win the argument” (though in the flesh if honest we all struggle with that temptation), but really to set the parameters honestly (e.g. my explanation you read). Because, again lets be honest, and all of us in general recognize this high level example, “Every church calling its self “church” or even somewhat Christian will say, “yea we believe the bible, yea the pure gospel”. Whose going to say other wise, right! But we all also know that’s not true at all and we all don’t mean the same thing. Getting at the essence of a thing and not just its name. Paul gets at that when he warns not against Buddha but “other” christs, gospels and spirits. Not meaning primarily these more obvious outlandish bafoons like Koresh (though it certainly would include him) but the more insidious hidden hard to recognize false teachings.

    It’s the very close false teachings that cause, actually the most harm and most disunity, right! I mean think about that for a minute, the reason its almost relieving to have a rank atheist or muslim oppose you is because its pretty easy to recognize where the enemy is, “he’s RIGHT THERE”. But heterodoxy is stealthy, and insidious and fools many. It sneaks in under cover of “orthodoxy” and it blames orthodoxy for sniffing it out as being hateful and not Christian love. “Not Christian love” is generally an excellent sign of a false heterodoxy because that is its cry and howl to get orthodoxy off of its back so it can go back under cover. But who is really dividing? Not orthodoxy but heterodoxy. If we could, hypothetically, eliminate all heterodoxy and only have the enemy in front of us plainly like atheism or paganism or Islam we could reduce the creeds back down to the simple Apostles Creed. The ONLY reason and need, for example for the book of Concord is the proliferation of false heterodoxy. It’s like herding chickens.

    1. Anyway, an EXCELLENT book, is Gerhard Forde’s book expositing Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. The title is “Gerhard O. Forde – On Being a Theologian of the Cross”. It is a small book but a packed book, one you will go back to time and time again. And don’t sweat it if some of it makes your brain go, WHAAA? That is just the very natural reaction of our own theologian of glory within us. I tell you that because that was my reaction and nearly everyone who first reads it. Because its against the incurable “doer” the fallen adam in us and only graspable by the new man “the naked truster”. In a way the more you see your self as grace needing bum, the more it will make sense and the less you do the less it will make sense.

    But I promise you it will be profoundly eye opening to you. Luther’s HD is the heart beat of the theology of the Cross he saw in Scripture. I STILL find nuggets in it I never saw before.

    And it’s pretty cheap last I checked.



  53. Thanks for the recommendation, Larry. I’ve ordered a copy of the book from (it gets a full 5 stars from reviewers … wow!). Looking forward to reading it!


  54. @Larry, @theoldadam — Just following up on this. I’ve worked my way through the book about Luther’s HD now, and it’s one of the most mind-blowing books I’ve ever read. And I have a fairly large stack (well, about 6 stacks) of theology books I’ve read. So I THANK YOU for the recommendation. Fantastic book, which I will urgently recommend to others.

    There are a small handful of things in Forde’s exposition that I still find questionable, and some might end up being important, but overall it is a truly stunning work. Although short, it’s very challenging and requires a lot of thought. And it probably benefits from a certain set of life experiences that I possess, but which are not universal. In any case, I found it tremendously edifying, and it is now on the very short list of “most influential” books for me. I look forward to reading it again and again.

  55. Joshua,

    You are most welcome. I had the exact same reaction you are. You will find, as I still do, going back through it at different times things will be more and more clear and increasingly profound, AHHA so that’s what Luther meant, moments will occur.

    I go back to this book on an annual or more basis. Sometimes its just one or two thesis to chew on.

    I’m greatly joyful for you enjoying this, truly!



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