Some ponderings

Martin Luther once told his introspective friend Philip – “The gospel is entirely outside of you!”

But John Calvin said- “As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.”

So which is it? I think thinking through this has profound implications…


5 Responses to “Some ponderings”

  1. i asked my old sys theo prof about this very interesting question. here is his response…

    Hi Adam.
    Good to hear from you, brother.
    I suspect you imagine what I might say. And I do so respectfully.
    The question IS a good one, insofar as many evangelicals probably think along the lines of a gospel “entirely outside of you.” But the quote certainly does not fairly summarize Luther’s thought. Luther, as you know, emphasized repeatedly that we are saved only as we are united to Christ, an emphasis we see in Calvin as well.
    Luther’s point to Melanchthon, no doubt, was that we cannot find the gospel in ourselves, but only in Christ: there is nothing intrinsically worthy of salvation in ourselves. To experience the benefits of the gospel, however, we must be joined to the One who contains these benefits in himself. So, while it is certainly true that salvation is in another (Christ), he does not remain at a distance from us, but rather joins us to him that we may enjoy him and his benefits.
    This question is similar to the question of imputed righteousness in justification (synonymous with the gospel for most evangelicals). In justification, we insist on the imputed righteousness of Christ extra nos (outside of us), not because Christ is himself outside of us, but because the righteousness in which we share is properly Christ’s, not properly ours. And we benefit from that “alien” righteousness only insofar as we are united to the righteous One.
    So the question “which is it?” is a false dichotomy., I suppose.
    What do you think?

    Marcus Johnson, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of Theology
    Moody Bible Institute
    Chicago, IL 60610

  2. I think part of the apparent contradiction lies in using spacial language in two different ways: for a.) that which is innate/intrinsic and b.) that which is relational. The word, ‘outside’ is used in two different ways here. The way Luther uses it is the former sense and the way Calvin does is the latter (i think).

    When Luther says the gospel is entirely ‘outside’ us, we may run into trouble merely thinking in a spacial perception of this theological concept. What he’s talking about is that the gospel is not in anything we are innately or intrinsically. There’s nothing we are or do that can save us. It’s sheer grace. And we are not saved by any foreseen merit, faith, or works of our own. No, we are saved by someone other than ourselves: Someone outside us, that is–someone who is not us, namely, Jesus.

    When Calvin says that that as long as Christ remains ‘outside’ us all that he has accomplished doesn’t do us any actual good, we do better to think in more relational terms than spacial (although sometimes this relationship, Biblically-speaking, is described as mutual indwelling). Until we are grafted into Christ, we will not enjoy the sweet sap and life and fruit that is Christ’s.

    So I think these reformers are using a word–a word that is imperfect at conveying the reality(ies) it is employed for–in two different ways. Luther is getting his friend to look away from himself to Christ. And Calvin is showing that what this Christ has purchased for us only truly becomes ours when he unites himself to us in and through the Holy Spirit.

  3. Please forgive my inability to spell. 🙂 If I could go back and edit my comment, I would replace all my ‘spacial’s with ‘spatial’s. I hope it wasn’t too distracting…

  4. I read a great quote on my lunch break from Cornelius Van Til that reminded me of this discussion. He says,

    ‘[R]eal redemption has not been fully wrought for us till it is wrought also within us. Sin being what it is, it would be useless to have salvation lie ready to hand unless it were also applied to us. Inasmuch as we are dead in trespasses and sins, it would do no good to have a wonderful life-giving potion laid next to us in our coffin. It would do us good only if someone actually administered the potion to us.’ (Christian Apologetics, 51)


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