The Hidden God vs The Revealed God In Reformed and Lutheran Theologies

One of the biggest concerns that moved me from Geneva to Wittenberg theologically and practically was the relationship between what Dr. Luther calls “the hidden god” and “the Revealed God.” Both of these theological categories, or ways of speaking about God, are present in both Reformed theology and Lutheranism, but the various contexts of their respective theologies end up viewing the relationship and outworking of such very differently. In this post, we will examine the relationship, but before we do so, let us define what exactly Luther means when he discusses “the hidden god” and “the Revealed God.”


Dr. Luther’s focus on the Revealed God came not from academic reasons, but from his own struggles with assurance that God was indeed gracious toward him. Roman Catholicism in his day was putting God in all His holiness and sheer terror on the same economic and salvation plane as God in Christ, and even Christ on the cross. In fact, during his day, since this was so, Christ was still looked at as terrifying, so people would look more to the Virgin Mary than to Christ, because the Virgin Mary, as a kind mother, would pacify the “terrors of Christ” and make Him more gentle by persuasion.

Luther rightly recognized that this was wrong-headed. Luther’s mentor, Johann von Staupitz, saw Luther’s terrors and he counseled him to find the gracious God in Christ alone and by looking to the Cross to find that God is gracious. It was then that Luther knew he had a gracious God. Luther even said “if it were not for the counsels of Stauptiz, I would have sunk into hell.”

So in this context, Luther understands “the hidden god” as God in all His holiness, majesty, sovereignty, and therefore sheer terror to sinners. This God is the God Who causes Mt. Sinai to smoke, so much so that if even an animal touches it, it is toast. This God is God apart from Christ, the God Who is terrible, the God Who damns sinners, the God Who has us born tainted with sin, and the God Who indeed has ordained every event that happens, including sin.

But Luther rightly saw this God as the One Who is inscrutable, the One Who cannot be comprehended or understood. In fact, the more we try and understand this God, the more we play with fire. This very same God warns us that no one can see Him and live.

We dare not seek God there. We dare not seek God in His unsearchable judgments.

Luther then contrasts this God with the Revealed God in Christ. In Christ, we find a God of love, One Who is gracious and forgiving and loving toward sinners. We must run to this God, we must seek Him as a Baby in the manger. It is this God alone that Luther cared to run to. It is here that God bid us find Him.

Otherwise, God hides Himself. God bids us look for Him and find Him in Christ alone, and to not concern ourselves with God outside of Christ.

This is why Luther would say “the Cross alone is our theology. This God is Man. This Man is God.”


Although Reformed theology does indeed have the categories of the hidden god vs the Revealed God in Christ, it nonetheless still starts with the eternal decrees through the covenant of redemption where the Father elects and the Son dies for and the Spirit applies salvation to the elect alone. Because of this, the Cross becomes the place in history where Christ merely manifests God’s election, and therefore Reformed theology has the doctrine of limited atonement. It has been asserted that there is no central doctrine in Calvinism by many Calvinists, but with its starting point being the covenant of redemption, which therefore starts with the eternal decrees and the glory of God, and thus manifesting election through limited atonement, the focus cannot avoid being stuck on God’s decrees and His sovereignty and therefore His glory.

This is very much the same thing as focusing on the hidden god.

Christ and the Incarnation, though confessed by the Reformed, end up taking a back seat.

God’s sovereignty and His decrees end up driving their thought and their system.

Even in its better forms, Calvinism cannot avoid this. You see this manifest in their own system through its continued iconoclasm, the regulative principle of worship, Sabbath concerns, etc.
And the hidden god is quite akin to law, which is why the hidden god at Sinai is sheer terror.

This hidden god is *not* for us.

The hidden god is against us.

Indeed, He has to be. He is holy, and we are not.

So, in the Revealed God in Christ in Reformed theology, since its focus is the decrees and limited atonement and particular grace, we nonetheless cannot be sure that God is *for us* under such thinking. How can we be sure this God died for us?

In fact, God still remains hidden in Reformed theology because you *cannot* look for Him in the Sacraments, since He is only present for the elect, according to all strands of Reformed theology.
Therefore, we are forced to look inward. And, if we do not look inward, we are forced to wonder if God is present for us in the Sacraments.

The way Reformed theology, therefore, sees the hidden god vs the Revealed God has severe practical consequences.


Under Lutheranism, since Lutheranism affirms universal grace and does not concern itself with God’s decrees, but simply allows for this Scriptural tension and paradox to nonetheless remain, we can rejoice in the *difference* between the hidden god and the Revealed God.

In Lutheranism, the hidden god remains hidden, and we do not concern ourselves with Him, lest we perish in our sins. We are only concerned about Christ and Christ alone. We do not care about the hidden decrees of God. To concern ourselves with the decrees–in *any* way–is spiritually dangerous. We cannot place law and Gospel on the same economic plane. Gospel–the Revealed God in Christ–is *always* God’s final Word, and always His highest authority.

God bids us look for Him in Christ alone and to not look for Him where He has not promised to be. To look for God in any place where He has not promised to be is to look to the hidden god and is spiritually dangerous. Luther calls this “Enthusiasm”, or “God within-ism.” Luther also rightly says that looking inward is the essence of what *sin* is. The power of sin is the law. The hidden god is law.

God in Christ, who indeed is *universally* gracious in Lutheranism, promises to be found as *for us* in His Word and in His Sacraments. *Never* apart from them. *Always* in the Word and in the Sacraments. The King has spoken. God is for us and comes down to us in ways we think are foolish–in Water, Bread, and Wine. And *really* and *truly*. Not resting upon whether we have faith or not. But really and truly as for us, and objectively. God indeed is really that gracious.

So in Lutheranism, the hidden god is law and terrifying and *not on the same plane* as the Revealed God in Christ and in the Gospel. Although we preach both law and Gospel, the Gospel is *always* God’s highest Word. This means that Christ–Who died for the sins of all who have ever lived and Who comes down to us in Word and Sacrament–is for us. He is the gracious God.

The Gospel of God’s universal saving grace in Word and Sacrament is always God’s highest and final Word.

The King has spoken.

This God is gracious and He is for you.

The Cross alone is our theology.

This God is Man.

This Man is God.

This God is Revealed in Christ for you. You will find Him where He has *promised* to be, objectively, all the time, for you, in Word and Sacrament.

Come and embrace this gracious God as He brings you into union with Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism, as He continually forgives you through His Word spoken through His pastor in Persona Christi in His gracious Word of Absolution, and as He continually makes Himself vulnerable for you by giving you His Body and His Blood in His Holy Supper, for the forgiveness of your sins.
Look for Him where He has promised to be for you, in Word and Sacrament.

This is the Good News. This God is indeed for you!


My Conversion to Lutheranism

Never did I expect to enter the Lutheran faith; I honestly expected to die in the Reformed faith. What follows in this post is simply my “conversion story”, and how I came to embrace the Lutheran faith, and why I believe, by God’s grace, that this is where I will stay.

What follows is not meant to be an exhaustive description of Lutheran theology, which I embraced and to which I converted, nor is it meant to be an exhaustive or scholarly critique of Calvinism, which I abandoned after 20 years spent therein. What follows is simply my “conversion testimony” and the way I now see things.


Being raised in the evangelical faith, I desired something of more substance. Although I can appreciate our non-denominational brethren’s desire for more unity, unfortunately this desire is usually at the expense of doctrine. I desired clarity and wanted to know what I believed. At the time, 20 years ago, that is when I discovered Calvinism and its doctrines.

I spent 20 years in Calvinism, and my time can be described as ups and downs, but more spiritual “downs” than “ups”, to be honest. I had a very philosophical mindset, and Calvinism satisfied that mindset. In the theology of Geneva (Calvinism), you have an airtight and rigorously logical system. Everything that happens on earth is an outworking of God’s sovereign decree, including the Fall of Adam, and including the decree of reprobation and who is predestined to be lost. Although orthodox Calvinism will speak of God desiring in some sense to save everyone, what is prominent is His sovereign decree. The Cross is an outworking of election, and God therefore atones only for the sins of the elect, and for no one else–although orthodox Calvinism admits that there is “a sense” in which Christ died for all “in the sense that” He desires their salvation–“in a sense.”

We can see from the above that Calvinism qualifies its language very much, almost to the nth degree. Whether Calvinism speaks of the extent of the atonement, the days of creation, the presence of Christ in the Supper, Baptism being efficacious for salvation, etc.–one has to ask our Calvinist brethren what they mean when they use language. This qualifying is very much connected to a lack of certainty and clarity, in my humble opinion. I desired certainty and objectivity, and I found it in Lutheranism.


Connected to the above, my time spent in Calvinism was one of constant battles with assurance of salvation. I am now convinced that this is because Calvinism, even in its better forms that seek to keep law and Gospel distinct, nonetheless cannot get away from or escape the fact that it must inevitably keep election and predestination as primary in its theological thought. It starts with the covenant of redemption, where the Father makes a covenant with the Son and Spirit to atone for and apply salvation to the elect alone. It then plays itself out in history in the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, and therefore the Cross becomes the place where election is displayed, since Christ atones only for the elect and no others.

Likewise, many Calvinists will correctly speak of Scripture needing to interpret Scripture, which is a good hermeneutic, but nonetheless they still impose the categories of election upon the Scriptures primarily, and therefore Scripture *still* does not simply speak for itself in Calvinistic thought. Limited atonement, for example, is simply *not* something that can be arrived at through allowing the Scripture to speak for itself, because Scripture clearly teaches in numerous places that Christ atoned for the sins of all who have ever lived–even for false prophets and false teachers. It clearly teaches that God’s disposition is one of *mercy*–“God has bound all men over to disobedience that He may have mercy on all.”

To be sure, many Calvinists will speak of there not being a central dogma in Calvinism, such as Dr. Michael Horton, for whom I have high respect. However, as it is said, saying so doesn’t make it so. We can demonstrate that this is simply not so, and that Calvinism simply cannot avoid making election the primary motif, especially because of doctrines such as limited atonement. And we can prove that Calvinism cannot avoid being law-centered, especially because of its iconoclasm, its doctrine of the regulative principle of worship, and its view of the Sabbath, etc. And, many of our Calvinist friends still may not be convinced and feel like it is not so. But, by analogy, one can tell a Mormon friend *why* and *how* Mormonism is simply not Christian doctrine, but our Mormon friends will continue to insist that Mormonism is Christian. But of course, just because a Mormon says that Mormonism is Christian does not make it so. Especially after one can prove why and how Mormonism is not Christian. In the same way, one can easily prove that Calvinism cannot avoid being law-centered and election and predestination-centered, even though many Calvinists will try and claim that they have no central doctrine. Them saying that there is no central dogma in Calvinism does not make it so.

And, I am convinced that this is why even in its better forms, Calvinism cannot continue keeping law and Gospel distinct. In fact, it has to put them on the same economic plane. Related to this, Dr. Martin Luther speaks of the hidden god vs the Revealed God in Christ. To place the hidden god apart from Christ on the same economic plane as the Revealed God in Christ is to confuse law and Gospel. Gospel must always be God’s final Word, and Gospel always has the highest authority.


For 20 years, I was told that Christ was mine, but I was also told that Christ died only for the elect. I was also told that the Spirit *might* be present in the Sacraments, and that if I have *faith* that I am receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at the Supper. But I was also being told that it is possible that my faith may be a false faith, given that I may or may not be one of God’s elect. When I was Reformed Baptist, I was told to look to Christ, but then to look to my fruit. As the Anglican preacher J.C. Ryle sadly said, “Sin forsaken is evidence of sin forgiven.” The fact is, we cannot look to our fruit to find assurance, given that we all have besetting sins, and given that even unbelievers “forsake” outward actions of sin. As my pastor rightly says, if we were to follow anyone around 24 hours a day for a week, we would *all* conclude that they were “not saved.”

No wonder the Puritans struggled with assurance of salvation so much!

But then I entered a better form of Calvinism that didn’t tell me to “check my fruit.” With that form, I was told to look to the sacraments, which was correct in practice, but wrong in its sacramentology. After my Reformed pastor began denying the law/gospel distinction in sanctification, that was the catalyst that caused me to begin questioning. Why does Calvinism struggle so much with keeping the law and the Gospel distinct? And I realized, it’s because it separates the Spirit from the sacraments. In Calvinism, the Spirit “might” be present at Baptism, but only for the elect, and that not even at the moment of administration. At the Supper, He is only present to the faith of the believer, but not for the unbeliever. So, although Calvinists will speak of the sacraments being “efficacious” and the “real presence” and “objectivity”, it nonetheless boils down to *subjectivity* and “yes, but.”

I needed “Yes” and “Amen.” I needed objectivity.

How could I know that I had a gracious God? How could I know that Christ died for me? How could I know I was one of the elect?

“Look to the sacraments,” I was being told. But by their own definition, Christ was not always present in the sacraments!

Then I recognized correctly that Kim Riddlebarger correctly said the main difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism is particular grace vs universal grace.

I began to see that Calvinism cannot get away from the hidden god.

How did I know that God was *for us*? *For me*?

I then began to see why Luther went berzerk over Zwingli and Bullinger and all non-sacramental thought. For Luther–and for Scripture–to take the Spirit out of the Sacraments–even in a “sometimes” or “qualified” sense, was to mess with the Gospel and objective assurance.

I then began to see that Scripture *clearly* teaches that Baptism saves, that the Spirit is always present at Baptism, and that Christ’s Body and Blood are truly present in the Supper.
I also began to see that Scripture clearly teaches universal grace. “God has bound all men over to disobedience that He may have mercy on all.”

I appreciated how Lutherans let paradox be paradox.

After that, the icing on the cake was I recognized that the Church, for 1,500 years, *always* taught that Holy Baptism regenerates, and that Christ is physically and objectively present in His Supper.
Calvin and Zwingli started from scratch. Their doctrines were not taught for 1,500 years.
Luther and his followers cared very much for the catholicity of the Church, and did not desire to create any new doctrines.


We do not look to creation to find God for us. Otherwise, we will give up when terrible things happen. We do not look within to find God for us. How do we know it is not our own thoughts? In fact, God hides Himself from being found by our feeble human attempts. God desires us to look for Him in Christ.

But this begs the question, “Where do I find Christ?” Especially since Christ is in heaven, can I climb the ladder to reach Him there? No. Of course not. All man-made theology is what is called “ladder theology.” Man tries to climb the ladder to reach God, to create his own Tower of Babel. The truth is, God must always come down.

Christ comes to us all the time, *for us*, in His Word and in His Sacraments. This is where we will find God *for us*, God as *gracious* for us. We will not find God gracious in creation, because creation dies. We will not find God gracious in His law, because His law shows us our sin.
If we want to find the gracious God, we must find Him in Christ on the Cross, and Him brought to us and for us in His Word and in His Sacraments.

We never get past the forgiveness of sins.

You see, this is down-to-earth. We all need a God Who is down-to-earth. When I was a Calvinist, I was philosophy-minded, bouncing from one theological idea within Calvinism to the next, never able to fully arrive, because it is idealistic and high-minded. It is “head-in-the-clouds.” Luther calls it “heavenly prophets.”

Lutheranism, on the other hand, is real, down-to-earth, physical, and right in front of me. It is where strivings truly cease. It keeps Jesus Christ at the center.


To my friends and family reading this, do I desire you to convert to Lutheranism? Of course I do. But don’t convert because of merely intellectual reasons. That would be treating it like another philosophy. Theology is not for the high-minded, or the philosophers. Theology is for pastoral care. Theology is *Christology*. It is about Christ, and about forgiveness of sins. We all need forgiveness. We never get past forgiveness. That is our greatest need. Christ is our Greatest Need.

In fact, Lutheranism is only a nickname. Lutheranism is the Gospel, and nothing else.

It is the Gospel of God’s universal saving grace in Christ, to the world, and for the world.

For me.

For you.
Many of us who converted from Calvinism to Lutheranism have similar stories. I had the honor recently of being interviewed by pastor Jordan Cooper on the Just and Sinner Podcast, describing my journey. Please give it a listen: http://justandsinner.com/podcast/from-calvinism-to-lutheranism/


Christ Died For YOU

Jesus Christ died for YOU. There are no conditions on this. No ifs. No buts. No candy and nuts.


1 Corinthians 15:1-4: Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures

So says St. Paul. Notice what he says in this text.

He calls the people he is addressing brothers. So clearly these are people who are Christians. But it is the rest of what St. Paul says that should be an eye-opener for the Reformed man.

St. Paul says that he preached the Gospel to these brothers by which they are saved. This flatly implies that He preached it to them before they were in Christ.

What did St. Paul preach to them?

1 Corinthians 15:3-4: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
He preached to them that Christ died for our sins. This means that he preached to them that Christ died for the sins of people who were unbelievers at the time.

Limited Atonement does not allow a person to preach that, and thus they cannot proclaim the Gospel the way St. Paul did.

That's a pretty big issue.



Robbing the Gospel

There is a fair online presence of Hyper Calvinistic Baptists out there who go by the terminology of "sovereign grace." I am not talking about the C.J. Mahaney types, I am talking about another group entirely. This group of folks believes that anyone who rejects limited atonement is a reprobate. They are all supralapsarian (it's a Calvinist thing, see: Lap Who?) in their view of God's decrees. They believe that God has nothing but love for the elect and nothing but pure hate for the non-elect. They're also Baptist in their stance on Baptism.

Anyways, they're in essence promoting a sort of Gnosticism in some ways, but that is not what this blog is to be about.

This blog is how this group actually robs the Gospel of the one thing they earnestly seek to uphold: free and sovereign grace.

Here is an example from a "sovereign grace" pastor: Is the Gospel and Offer or Command?

Here you have it. This pastor, and all those in this group, insist that the Gospel is a command, yet also insist on sovereign grace alone in salvation. Truth is, the Gospel is not an offer or a command. There are two major problems with this theology.

First, they separate the Gospel from grace. They will protest this charge, but it is valid. The very definition they portray of "sovereign grace" actually denies that the Gospel itself is a means through which the Holy Spirit works, since the Spirit regenerates apart from means anyways in their theology.

Thus, grace actually comes *apart from* the Gospel itself.

Second, they actually rob the Gospel of actually being a one-sided divine promise of grace for you by turning it into a command. Making the Gospel into a command turns the Gospel into LAW.

The GOSPEL, not the LAW, is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1). And turning the Gospel into a command turns the Gospel into Law and actually destroys the one thing these "sovereign gracers" seek to uphold: free grace.