Protestant evangelicalism is a descendant of the Reformation. I did a post sometime ago about Calvin’s view of the church. We saw the difference between his view and contemporary evangelicalism. I’m now reading Carl Trueman’s new book Luther on the Christian Life (Crossway). As I do with many books I didn’t start at the beginning but jumped feet first into the chapter on “Freed from Babylon: Baptism and the Mass.” It was here I discovered how serious Luther was regarding the sacraments. Consider this:
“ . . . Luther is often cited as a great hero of modern evangelical Protestantism . . . [n]evertheless, the rather embarrassing fact for evangelical admirers of Dr. Martin is that he would not have regarded any of them as actually being faithful to the biblical teaching on the Supper. Luther, after all, was a highly sacramental theologian. More than that, he saw his sacramentalism as a hallmark of true Christianity. When he famously declared during the Marburg Colloquy that Huldrych Zwingli was ‘of a different spirit,’ he was not commenting on Zwingli’s temperament; rather, he was declaring that Zwingli was simply not a true believer, that whatever spirit motivated him, it was not the Holy Spirit. The reason? Zwingli understood the Lord’s Supper as a symbolic action that did not actually involve the whole Christ, divine and human, in the elements of bread and wine. . . . Given that most evangelical Protestants hold to a purely symbolic view of the Lord’s Supper, and given that even the Reformed position, taking its cue from Calvin, does not involve an objective presence of the whole Christ in the elements, it is safe to conclude that Luther would not regard evangelicalism as properly Christian.” (Emphasis mine. pp. 137-38)
What about baptism?
“Luther’s understanding of baptism is, along with his view of the real presence in the Mass, one that modern evangelical Protestants find most alien. Most evangelicals are probably Baptist, either by conviction or by default. Thus, Luther’s militant attachment to infant baptism is alien. Yet it is not simply Baptists who find Luther’s thinking in this area perplexing: Presebyterians and Reformed who have no disagreement with his belief that infants should be baptized find themselves at odds with his realist view of the sacrament’s significance. If they baptize children because of their understanding of the scope of the covenant of grace, Luther does so because he sees baptism as a regenerative act by which the child is made into a Christian. To the evangelical mind, this seems to stand in contradiction to his emphasis on justification by faith.” (p. 139)
To be fair, Trueman notes, “Luther was often bombastic, and we should not always take him at his word. But even if he would not have denied the Christianity of all those who differed with him on the Supper, he would nonetheless have regarded them as seriously deficient in their understanding of the Christian faith.” (p. 23)
Regarding this book Michael Horton says, “If you think you know Luther, read this book. It is a remarkably edifying and illuminating piece of work. Displaying the interests of a pastor and the rigor of a historian, Trueman provides us with an analysis of Luther on the Christian life that is as ‘human’ as the German Reformer himself.”
Luther on the Christian Life is a paperback with 224 pages and sells for $17.99.
Here is the table of contents:
Introduction: What Has Geneva to Do with Wittenberg?
- Martin Luther’s Christian Life
- Theologians, Priests, and Kings
- The Theology of the Word Preached
- The Liturgy of the Christian Life
- Living by the Word
- Freed from Babylon: Baptism and the Mass
- Luther and Christian Righteousness
- Life and Death in This Earthly Realm: Government, Calling,and Family
Conclusion: Life as Tragedy, Life as Comedy
Carl R. Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary and pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Ambler, Pennsylvania. He was editor of Themelios for nine years, has authored or edited more than a dozen books, and has contributed to multiple publications including the Dictionary of Historical Theology and The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology.