Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith

The Introduction of Bondage of the Will is summarizing Luther’s words on two main issues of salvation:

1. Can man save Himself outside of God’s willing it and making Him saved? Luther’s answer is no.

2. How can God send people to hell for doing what God made them do? Luther doesn’t know.

On both points, the conclusion is that God does stuff that doesn’t make any sense to us. In fact, God often does stuff that contradicts Scripture.

I kid you not, that’s what the Introduction says: God does things that contradict Scripture. Of course he tones it down a bit to say “it seems” like it contradicts Scripture, but let’s be real here. Luther says stuff that contradicts Scripture is clearly what is being said.

Here’s a quote from Luther:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith.

The author of the Introduction then says in the sentence after this quote:

And it is here, when faced with appearances that seem to contradict God’s own word, that faith is tried; for here, reason rises up in arms against it.

I already had trouble with what Luther has said about free will. I already thought Luther contradicts Scripture on any number of points. But to hear him come right out and admit that he does, AND FURTHER, to say that he has to contradict Scripture in order to have faith is unreal.

Let me throw one verse at you to contrast with the two quotes above, one of my favorite verses because it clarifies so much, Romans 10:17:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

According to the Bible, God’s Word, faith means listening to God’s Word, believing exactly what God says.

According to Bondage of the Will, Luther’s word, faith means what you have when what you think disagrees with God’s word or when you don’t understand it.

It’s always amazing to me to watch people believe things and then struggle with how what they believe does not agree with the Bible. This is where “mystery” comes in.

Back to the Introduction:

Everything that God reveals about Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce to having it so.

This is completely false. If everything God reveals is revealed to make no sense, then why did He reveal it? What’s the point of God revealing things if even after revealing it we don’t understand it?

God reveals things to be understood; that’s kind of the point of revfelation. The secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed belong to us.

Are there aspects of what God says that leave us with wonder and further questions? Certainly, but to assert that every doctrine God reveals leaves us sitting here not comprehending things is just nuts.

It’s mind boggling when theologians come to see that the Bible doesn’t say what they believe, that they don’t use that opportunity to change what they believe. Oh no! On the contrary, they get busy saying how the Bible is wrong or unclear.

They then use their non-sensical doctrine that the Bible disagrees with to be a sign of mature faith! You have faith when you have no clue what you’re talking about!

The Bible says faith is hearing God’s word. Faith is not what you have when you don’t understand God’s Word. God said stuff to be understood. Understanding God’s Word is actually what Faith is.

“By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, sat around wondering at the mystery of what God told them to do.” Not what it says.

By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, did exactly to the letter what God said because that’s what faith is: understanding and acting on exactly what God says. Faith does not show up in mysterious unclearness and uncomprehendingness.

If faith means trusting God when you’re clueless, then Romans 10 is out. I sincerely would mistrust anyone who told me faith is what you have in confusion. “I don’t understand anything, but oh well, guess I’ll push through and just believe.” That’s not faith.

Faith is unshakable confidence that God speaks truth and regardless of what I believe, think, or prefer, what God says is true, right, and understandable and then acts on it.

I fail to see how Luther’s understanding of faith would foster spiritual growth. Luther’s end of faith is complete confusion, not certainty–all doctrine terminates in mystery. That has to mean that the more you grow, the less you know. That’s just crazy.

3 thoughts on “Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Welcome back to blogging! I was happy to see you posting again and have enjoyed reading your series on Luther’s “Bondage of the Will.”

    I would like to recommend a book to you that sheds a lot of light on any theology based on Augustinianism (that includes both Luther and Calvin). It is “The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism” by Ken Wilson. Wilson actually read all of Augustine’s works in chronological order for his dissertation to see how his theology changed over time. There are several interesting things that come out of the study. First, the teaching that human beings have no free will came out of Augustine’s stoic background and early Christians had fought the idea. Also the idea that all of physical existence is bad and only the spiritual is good was also fought by the early church but is a teaching of Manicheanism (Augustine had been Manichean at one time). In Augustine’s day there was a rule that no former Manichean could become a bishop in the church but they made an exception for Augustine. That seems to have been a mistake.

    I should probably also mention that Augustine claimed that his teachings were the same as the early church’s. Because of this both Luther and Calvin believed they were getting back to the roots of the early church when they went all-in for Augustine.


  2. Hi Jeff,

    One more comment. I ran into the teaching that “everything God reveals is beyond human comprehension” when I listened to a Bible study almost fifteen years ago. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time but the teacher of the course was a devotee of the theologian Cornelius Van Til. During the course of the study he mentioned that there was a falling out between Cornelius Van Til and another theologian by the name of Gordon Clark so I decided to dig into it and get some more details. Basically Cornelius Van Til believed that all of God’s revelation is beyond human comprehension but Gordon Clark taught that we can know some things as God knows them. The Van Tilians claimed that this violated the “creator/creature distinction” and was therefore heresy. In the end it caused a denominational split.

    I decided that anyone who believes we cannot understand any revelation from God is a mystic. I lost any interest in studying any kind of Calvinism at that time which is a good thing.


  3. Good to hear from you again, Glenn.

    I am aware of the background of Augustine in Greek philosophy. It really messed up the church and since he was so early on, he is not talked about as being Early Church/ Church Tradition authority. He’s done more damage to the church than any other human being, in my estimation.

    The idea that God revealed things to remain shrouded in mystery and incomprehension is just nuts. Of course, the people who tell you this fully expect you to listen to and understand them! “God is incomprehensible, so listen to me.” Riiiiiight.

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