Bavinck on Lutheran view vs. Reformed view of the Third Use of the Law

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Oecolampadius, Jan 29, 2011.

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  1. Oecolampadius

    Oecolampadius Puritan Board Sophomore

    The reason that I am posting this is that I believe that this has much to do with the ongoing 'Law/Gospel distinction debate'. I also think that this sheds some light as to why objections are being raised.
    There are those who say that there is no difference between the Lutheran view and the Reformed view when it comes to the Third Use of the Law. However, according to Bavinck, that is not true.

    Lutheran View
    Reformed View
    [Emphases mine]

    Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4. 2008 Edition. pp. 454-455.
    If you want to read more, you can access Dr. Kloosterman's translation HERE.

    Note: I am in no way implying that the 'Law/Gospel distinction' should be rejected because it is said to be primarily Lutheran. It is clear to me that this distinction is part of Reformed theology. However, it makes me wonder why there are those who insist that there is no difference.
  2. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    At the risk of committing further Puritanboard heresy: Could Bavinck have erred in his assessment of the Lutherans? Did Bavinck tell the truth, the whole story or did he repeat a received story about Lutherans? I've certainly found Lutherans of the same period repeating received, false, stories about Reformed theology and the Reformed confession.

    Before someone else says it, I'm no Bavinck, but I do read Luther and some of the older Lutheran theologians and I have read the Book of Concord. Read Luther's Large Catechism (1529) where he teaches the third use extensively.

    The Epitome of the Book of Concord, on the Third Use says:

    Does Bavinck's summary adequately account for this Lutheran language?
  3. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    Actually, Dr. Clark, parts of the Book of Concord quote lead me to wonder whether Bavinck may have a point. I'm not sure, though, so perhaps you could elucidate a few sections.

    What the Book appears to be saying is that an unbeliever (unregenerate) will obey commands only by coercion. On the other hand, the believer is not entirely regenerate (the Book appears to be using "regenerate" to mean actual sanctification), but so far as he is regenerate, he does not need the law, considered as threatenings and rewards, in order to fulfill its demands. In fact, his obedience, to be true regenerate obedience, cannot take note of threats, punishments, or rewards. So, it is the still unregenerate (yet to be sanctified) part of the believer's nature that the law speaks in its law-ness. This, anyway, was what I gathered from the above portions.

    Perhaps, though, my reading is colored by my prior reading of Paul Althaus' The Theology of Martin Luther, which includes a chapter, "Law and Gospel." In this chapter, Althaus argues that Luther affirms the third use of the law, but it is for believers only insofar as they are still carnal and not led by the spirit. “As long as the Christian is still ‘flesh’ and ‘old man,’ the law is not abrogated for him as it is for the new man…. Insofar as the Christian is still an old man, the law must still carry out its spiritual function on him and show him his sin.” As the believer is sanctified, the Spirit teaches the new man what to do without the help of the law, but the law remains useful for us insofar as we are not fully filled with the Spirit. According to Althaus, Luther also makes the distinction between "the works of the Law" being coercive and the spontaneously offered "works of grace."

    In short, Althaus' reading of Luther aligns perfectly with Bavinck's reading of Lutheranism, and seems to fit what I bolded in the Book of Concord. As I understand Reformed theology, it does not teach that true obedience is totally free from consideration of threats, punishments, and rewards. In fact, does WCF 14.2 not state the opposite?
  4. Oecolampadius

    Oecolampadius Puritan Board Sophomore

    Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for posting your response to this thread. I am a reader of your blog and I admit that I had you in mind when I said that there are those who state that there's no difference between the Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on this matter. I've been waiting for your response to Charlie Johnson's post. I know that you're a busy man but I would really appreciate it if you could take the time to respond once again.
  5. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I find this thread fascinating over all but want to point out that I'm more interested in determining streams of thought within Reformed orthodoxy and how they compare to streams today. While the Book of Concord may provide a framework for a third use of the Law, I certainly don't see any reflection in current Lutheran writings that there is a robust use of it. I find Bavinck to ring true at the "street level" when you read what Lutherans write. Luther also had a robust view of the bondage of the will that was softened in later Lutheranism.

    I guess a fundamental question would be whether you could find many Lutheran ministers who would heartily agree with the below (as I believe it is a great summary of the Reformed view of the Law):
    In other words, it may be historically interesting that Lutherans in the past might have once had a strong understanding of the third use of the Law but is it relevant today when you don't see any reflection of it in modern writing/preaching?
  6. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    True dat. I have talked to several really old - and some young - LCMS chaplains and the response has been fairly monolithic. I really enjoy LCMS chaplains - for a number of reasons - but I've learned a number of things from them. One of which is that practically speaking, the Lutheran doctrine of salvation begins and ends with justification. As soon as you start talking about fruit of the spirit being evidence of new birth, they say "that's works salvation" and are very adamant to back away from that. Second, they'll confess that the 3rd use of the Law is technically there in Lutheran theology, but it is most definitely not a point of emphasis.

    While not exactly related, nonetheless talking about emphasizing something not normally given emphasis reminds me... I humbly propose that this is possibly what Horton has done - he's taken concepts that are technically present in the writings of Reformed writers, but were never functionally dominant themes, and has given them emphasis. I don't want to be seen as "slandering" the guy, because I have great respect for him, but his seems to be - in my humble estimation - a Lutheranized Reformed theology. Maybe that's good, I don't know. Or maybe I'm off base.
  7. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    What I find interesting is that Rev. Winzer has pointed out that certain emphasis were declared to be antinomian by the Reformed, and then over the years it has lead to....Antinomianism.

  8. moral necessity

    moral necessity Puritan Board Junior

    Here are a few articles/links for those interested in doing some further study on the topic:

    - Some Lutheran theologian perspectives on the Law/Gospel.
    - The last article is from a Church History Professor at Gordon Cromwell that describes the history behind the different emphasis of Luther and Calvin, and the later Puritans. (Good analysis of the distiction between Luther and Calvin regarding sanctification)

    "The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel" by C.F.W. Walther

    >Walther's Law and Gospel
  9. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Not related to the topic but this quote is a keeper from the article:

  10. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't know what Bavinck means here and don't think all the Reformed would agree with him. The redeemed will now and forever keep the law in the context of the Gospel.

  11. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't think Bavinck meant to imply that the "effects" of each are eternal or temporary, but rather their "origin." The law is a part of man's original consitution, the gospel was given post-fall for the purpose of restoration.
  12. Oecolampadius

    Oecolampadius Puritan Board Sophomore

    The context wherein Bavinck made that statement is the preaching of the Word. A few sentences after that he states: "For that reason that law must always be proclaimed in the church in the context of the gospel. Both law and gospel, the whole Word, the full counsel of God, are the content of preaching."

    And the title of the chapter from which that quote was taken is "The Spirit's Means of Grace: Proclamation"

    Therefore, with that context in mind (i.e. the proclamation of the Word), I interpret Bavinck to have said that because, at the Second Coming and afterwards, there will be no more Gospel proclamation (Offer of Salvation); no more call to repentance and faith in Christ.

    WAWICRUZ Puritan Board Freshman

    I think it's a mischaracterization to say that the Lutheran view of the Law is devoid of "desire" and chiefly concerned with "threats."

    Luther on Psalm 1:2:

  14. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    The point still stands that for Luther, considerations of reward and threat are inappropriate for the regenerate. And, though he may not say this every time he talks about law, when he distinguishes "works of law" from "works of grace," the central feature of "works of law" is their threatening and rewarding nature.

    By the way, and this may not be material but it may be, Luther's works on these Psalms dates from very early in his career, either 1513-1515 during his first Psalms lectures, or in 1519, when he did some more commentary work on the Psalms.

    WAWICRUZ Puritan Board Freshman

    Bavinck says:

    But the Epitome of the Book of Concord says,

    Notice the phrase in boldface. I take this to mean as obeying the Law out of love for the Law. Taken alongside my previous citation of Luther's commentary on Psalm 1:2, it appears Bavinck's generalization may not be too accurate after all.

    It seems for Luther, the Law both threatens the Christian and is loved by the Christian, which I think aligns with the Reformed position.
  16. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    As has been stated in previous threads I think pointing to what Luther or even the Book of Concord says concerning this subject is a bit anachronistic to the point at hand. Others have made mention and it has been my experience that contemporary Lutheran practice and theology would not necessarily agree with these statements.
  17. jogri17

    jogri17 Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark,
    Do you think it would be helpful if we Reformed folk actually read historic and modern Historic dogmatics from the Lutheran tradition? I don't usually see people actually quoting Lutheran dogmatics when certain folk say the Lutheran and the Reformed are not that far apart.

    If your response is yes, then where does one start?
  18. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I gave some good papers from Lutheran points of view on this subject. Here is a good resource that I use Concordia Theological Seminary - Walther Library - Pro Bono Ecclesiae.
  19. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    By learning Latin. The Lutheran scholastics haven't been translated.

    WAWICRUZ Puritan Board Freshman

    So is the argument akin to the "Calvin against the Calvinists" controversy, i.e., Lutheranism somehow veered away from Luther's original thought on the Law?

    Privileged to be learning from you guys.
  21. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    Lutheranism's doctrinal formulations and ethos owe more immediately to Melanchthon than to Luther. Indeed, Chemnitz is practically more significant as well. (There are many others, of course.) Futher, the pietist movement arose from within Lutheranism - as did theological liberalism. I wonder how/if the reactions against these movements are still felt in orthodox Lutheran theology.
  22. Oecolampadius

    Oecolampadius Puritan Board Sophomore

    James, first of all, thank you for providing the links. I have read or skimmed through most of them but the one above is the one that I found most helpful.

    After reading the article written by Carl Beckwith, I am now convinced that if Bavinck was referring to classical Lutheran doctrine pertaining to the Third Use then he was most likely misinformed. However, we also have to put into consideration that perhaps he made that observation based on the contemporary Lutheran practice during his time since, as I have pointed out previously, the context of the quote is the Proclamation of the Word or Preaching.

    However, I also discovered from this article that the Lutherans themselves are concerned about the effect of overemphasizing the "Law/Gospel distinction." According to the article, such an overemphasis or viewing it as the "ultimate horizon for theological reflection" could lead to Antinomianism. For those who wish to read the specific paragraph where this is mentioned, check out the post I made on the Law and Gospel thread.

    So, instead of becoming wary of Lutheran perspective on the matter, I believe we should learn from them.
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