1 Peter 3:18-22

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah,while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. ~1 Peter 3:18-22 (ESV)

Here we have one of the clearest baptism passages in the New Testament. Unfortunately, this text has been a major battleground among Christians over the last few hundred years or so. There have been numerous interpretations put forth regarding the proper meaning of this passage. Some have been good, others feasible, and still others have been quite a stretch. I think, at the end of the day, it is not that difficult of a passage to figure out.

Top: John Piper Bottom: 1 Peter 3:21

Certainly, interpretations of this passage fall along denominational lines. Consider Baptist pastor John Piper: "Now the problem with this is that Peter seems very aware that his words are open to dangerous misuse. This is why, as soon as they are out of his mouth, as it were, he qualifies them lest we take them the wrong way. In verse 21 he does say, "Baptism now saves you" - that sounds like the water has a saving effect in and of itself apart from faith. He knows that is what it sounds like and so he adds immediately, "Not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.""

And then later, "God saves you through the work of Christ. But you receive that salvation through calling on the name of the Lord, by trusting him. And it is God's will all over the world and in every culture - no matter how simple or how sophisticated - that this appeal to God be expressed in baptism."

Piper's article can be found here: Piper - Baptism

Hence, Pastor Piper is essentially arguing that Peter put the words in verse 21 regarding "removal of dirt" as a warning to not use his words to mean that baptism saves. As an aside, why would Peter write that at all if he thought they could be dangerously misconstrued to mean what they say? That makes a grand total of no sense whatsoever. And finally, Piper concludes that baptism is a symbolic appeal or pledge to God done by the believer as an expression of faith.

The most glaring problem with Piper's interpretation of this passage is that the passage simply does not say that. Peter is drawing a type and antitype parallel here. He references Noah and the ark. Moreover, Peter also is clear that Noah and his family were brought safely through the water. This is a type. The flood, in which Noah and his family were on the ark, were brought safely through the water. They were quite literally saved through the water in the physical realm.

The antitype, the greater reality which the flood pointed to is baptism. Just as Noah and his family were safely brought through the waters and saved, Peter says baptism, which corresponds to the flood, now also saves you.

And in this light, I agree with Pr. Piper when he says that Peter inserts language about removal of dirt as being important in that Peter does not want his words to be misused. However, the parallel that Peter is drawing actually speaks in the opposite direction as Pr. Piper would have us believe. Pr. Piper is essentially saying that Peter is saying that baptism now saves you, but not really saves you. It doesn't make you clean. In short, Piper is inserting somewhat of a contradiction into Peter's words in order to fit his preconceived theological leanings.

The more likely meaning, and really the plain meaning of this passage, is that Peter does not want his readers to believe that baptism is a strict one for one parallel with the flood. In other words, when Peter says that baptism now saves you and then continues with the removal of dirt language, he is telling us that baptism does not save us physically and temporally as God saved Noah and his family through the water. This water of baptism is a Word of God and is not a physical salvation from calamity. It is an eternal salvation. It is the greater antitype. Hence, Peter continues on: "...but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." (1 Peter 3:21b-22)

In other words, whereas Noah was temporally delivered through the water, we are eternally delivered through the water. How? How can water do such things? Well, it can't. But God can. As Luther reminds us in his Small Catechism:

How can water do such great things?

It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

How then? Peter answers thus: Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Baptism gives us Jesus. All the power and authority that Jesus has due to His crucifixion and resurrection is given to us in Baptism. (Matt 28:18-20)

Hence, Pr. Piper's answer, while creative and in attempt to be faithful to the biblical report, is untenable. Not only because Piper creates a contradiction in Peter, but also in that his preconceived theology simply will not allow the passage to speak clearly as it does. Where Pr. Piper thinks he is doing the church a service by exegeting Peter, he is in reality teaching people the opposite of what Peter has said, and that is never a good thing.

Baptism now saves you. Thanks be to God.



The Great Divide by Jordan Cooper: A Review

I was recently fortunate enough to receive a review copy from Wipf and Stock publishers of Pr. Jordan Cooper's book titled The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology.

The Great Divide

From the outset, the reader here should know that I have traveled a very similar path as Pr. Cooper. I likewise once was a Reformed Calvinist and now am a Confessional Lutheran. That being said, this book by Pr. Cooper fills a big void in a topic that I have found many Lutherans are not very aware of. That is, the differences between Reformed Theology and Lutheran Theology and how Lutheranism in general views specific Reformed doctrines on which we both agree as well as differ.

If the reader is looking for a treatise that covers every single nuance in Reformed Theology, they will be disappointed. Yet that is not the author's intent of this book. In my estimation, this book is aimed directly at educated armchair theologians who are laymen like myself. And in that regard, Pr. Cooper's book shines brightly.

The first great positive of Pr. Cooper's book is that, as a former Calvinist, he understands Reformed Theology very clearly. A great strength of the book is that Pr. Cooper deals fairly with basic Reformed doctrine. He does not misrepresent Calvinist Theology as many attempts in the past have been wont to do. He clearly grasps Reformed doctrines such as double predestination, limited atonement, and perseverance. As best as possible for the short and concise treatment that Pr. Cooper levies, he accurately and fairly lays out the doctrines of Reformed Theology. He does this mainly by directly quoting Reformed Confessions of faith (mainly the Westminster Confession) and numerous Reformed authors with whom the reader will most likely be familiar, such as James White (Reformed Baptist) and R.C. Sproul (Presbyterian). Pr. Cooper also quotes and references numerous less known Reformed authors from times past, although not as much as the modern more popular ones. This I view to be a strength of the book, as the majority of the readers will be much more familiar with R.C. Sproul than they are with Charles Hodge, for instance.

After laying out the Reformed doctrines that Pr. Cooper is evaluating, he lays out the Lutheran doctrines of the same topic. He does this as well by extensive quotations from the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as well as numerous Lutheran theologians. The reader is left with a pure treatment of both camps' doctrines on numerous core theological topics, coming straight from sources that are proponents of each view.

The treatment of what each theology teaches takes up the bulk of each chapter. After treating both sides of the coin, Pr. Cooper goes into some detail as to why Lutheranism does not agree (and in some cases, has some agreement) with the Reformed doctrines. He does this through pointing to different Lutheran theologians and their rebuttals as well as some exegesis of Scripture. However, Pr. Cooper does not bog us down in long, drawn out exegesis of the original languages to the point that will lose the lay reader. He keeps it simple and understandable. Certainly, this may detract from the book for the scholar, but for me, it was a huge addition.

Finally, Pr. Cooper concludes each chapter as to why we should privilege the Lutheran doctrine over the Reformed doctrine, based on his treatment of both doctrines in the chapter. This is of course to be expected, as Pr. Cooper is a Confessional Lutheran pastor.

It needs to also be said that Pr. Cooper's book does not cover every single nuance of Reformed Theology. There are many differing views in Reformed Theology as a whole, and the book itself is not intended to cover every single one of them. Such a book would be multiples volumes long or extremely thick. For instance, he does not cover every single baptismal theory that those who claim Reformed Theology hold to. And that is OK. This is not the scope of the book. The book deals in basics and advances to an intermediate level, clearly showing the differences between the two camps while not burying us under a mess of theological detail that many lay readers will have to research to understand.

The differences are very clear between Reformed Theology and Lutheran Theology, and Pr. Cooper, through accurate representation of the two, has made this readily apparent to the reader. For what the book intends to accomplish, it succeeds in a glowing manner, showing that the gulf between Calvinism and Lutheranism is indeed a great one.

Highly Recommended.

***I received this book as a review copy from Wipf and Stock publishers. I was in no way required to promote this title or write of it positively. The review posted contains strictly my own thoughts.


Calvinist Canards

canard. noun, plural canards. 1) a false or baseless, usually derogatory story, report, or rumor.

Ahhhhh, the canards that come from the tough guy internet Calvinists. Today I have a fun one.

Canard: John Calvin's face.
The fun Calvinist canard of the day is this: If God wants to save everyone, everyone would then be saved. Or, it seems that you are saying that God is trying to save these people who are not saved.

Don't fall for it. It's a canard. What they are implying is that we (meaning everyone who isn't a Calvinist) have a God that tries His best but is unable to do anything about the situation. What they are indirectly implying is that only they have an Almighty, Sovereign God, and we have a weak beggar who is impotent to accomplish His will. Hence, limited atonement and so on. They are trying to pigeonhole you into an Arminian, Pelagian, or Open Theistic conception of God. Don't fall for it. We actually have a concept of God that is closer to Calvinism than those other things just mentioned. Of course, in their limited theological mind, anything that is not Calvinism does fall into those categories. But it just is not true.

These are the categories in which the militant tough guy internet Calvinist operates. So, why should we reject this question and/or charge?

Well, first of all, it betrays the inability of this sort of Calvinist to think in terms outside of absolute predestination and autonomous free will. It fails to recognize that all theology does not fall into one of two categories - Calvinism/Determinism or Arminianism/Pelagianism/Libertarianism. In fact, those systems of thought (I am referring specifically to Calvinism and Arminianism here) are Johnny-come-latelies in the theological arena. Before the Reformed Church erupted into this dichotomy with the Remonstrants, hardly any theological system started and ended all discussion based on this paradigm. In fact, Calvinism as well as Arminianism are radical departures from catholic Christianity. They are not a Reforming of the church - they are a completely new branch. The modern internet Calvinist wants to relegate everything to the doctrine of election, thereby placing the Sacraments and other super-duper important things on a secondary status.

Second, it's a backwards question. It likewise betrays the willingness of the internet Calvinist to start and base his whole theology off of God's hidden will (election in eternity past) and not in God's revealed will (Christ Incarnate, crucified, and risen for us). This makes Christ crucified an outworking of election.

Third, it gets the internet Calvinist into some pretty deep water regarding the work of the Spirit in saving sinners. This is why Calvinism has distinguished between the inward call (regeneration) and the outward call (preaching of the Word). The inward call is a special call the elect alone receive whereby they are made partakers of Christ and born again. This happens when the Gospel is preached, but it is the Spirit alone who regenerates, and only in the elect. How then can they affirm that the preaching of the Gospel is pure grace when it is heard by the hearers? Well, they cannot, because the Spirit refuses to give the inward call to the non-elect. Hence, it traverses awfully close to the slippery slope of separation of the spiritual from the natural means of grace.

It is far simpler, and more biblical, to simply say that the Spirit is at work in the preaching of the Gospel 100% of the time to 100% of the hearers. If they reject it, it's because they rejected it, not because there was no inward call involved. If they receive it, it is because the Holy Spirit gave it. Thus, grace received is 100% a gift of God, plus nothing. Whereas, grace rejected is 100% the work of man, nothing of God.

This whole idea of God trying and getting what He wants with 100% certainty is the reason why these internet Calvinists have to come up with novel interpretations of numerous plain and clear passages in Scripture. To name a few, 1 Tim 2:4-6, 2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 4:10, 1 John 2:2, and 2 Pet 2:1.

Instead, we are far better off Scripturally starting with and sticking to - God's revealed will given to us in Christ Jesus alone, and not trying to cram the revealed will into the hidden will that ends up with doctrines like limited atonement and rejects doctrines like baptismal regeneration. Worse yet, they have to reject some clear Scriptures to hold to what they do.

This is a canard. Moreover, it's a bad case of philosophical systematics trumping the revealed Word of Christ.



Semper Virgo: A Confessional Position

On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, bore not a mere man, but, as the angel [Gabriel] testifies, such a man as is truly the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother's womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate. Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin. ~Solid Declaration VIII:24

The Book of Concord doesn't say a whole lot about Mary, the Mother of God. But what it does say, I assert, says quite a bit in itself.

Most Lutheran parishioners in the 21st century deny the historic Christian position of the Semper Virgo, or the perpetual virginity of Mary. A recent poll in a facebook group in which I am administrator bears this out. It seems that at the very least, 75% of Lutherans reject this position. I am estimating here, but this estimate is pretty conservative in my mind.

I am not one of these people. Perhaps even some of my blog mates disagree with me here. I am not certain where they all stand on this particular topic.

I contend that it is most likely that our Lutheran forbears were absolutely referring to the ever-virginity of Mary in the final clause of the quoted Solid Declaration above.

Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin.

The biggest reason I believe this to be so is that all of the early Reformers held to the Semper Virgo. Martin Luther certainly did.

The other reason I believe that the Solid Declaration is teaching the Semper Virgo is that it makes no sense whatsoever to include the final clause "...and nevertheless remained a virgin" if they are meaning to talk about something else. It just doesn't make any sense that they mean something like "she remained a virgin until after she had borne Christ." Since they have already strongly asserted the Virgin Birth, they really do not need to throw this clause in there unless they are referring to something more, such as the Semper Virgo.

Certainly I do recognize that there are arguments in the other direction, and both sides in this discussion use Scripture to support their stances, but that is a discussion for another day.

Yet, if the Semper Virgo is indeed the stance our Confessions take, should we not be believing it?

As for now, this will suffice.

This Confessional Lutheran blogger affirms the Semper Virgo.



Given theological differences, it is proper to listen to one another carefully so we can understand our differences clearly. We do not want to tell others who they are, but instead listen to them say who they really are.

For example:

Usually in relationships people of course have differing views of each other and who each other is. To work out differences, it is vitally important that others listen to the other "straight from the horse's mouth", as it were.

For example, extroverts view introverts as "anti-social." Whereas, the introverts simply say that *who they are* is focusing on spending their energy on a few people as close friends. Introverts prefer not to talk about the weather, but about deep issues.

So the introverts are misunderstood by the extroverts.

On the other end, extroverts are usually viewed by introverts as arrogant and always wanting to be the center of attention. But the extroverts simply reply that they simply enjoy being around a lot of people, and they enjoy being the life of the party and only wish to have fun.

So the extroverts are misunderstood by the introverts.


These kinds of misunderstandings are sadly all too common in the theological world. Many times different branches and denominations of Christianity apply their own preconceived notions of who they themselves are, and take them and place them on other kinds of Christians.

In fact, many times how people think will come out practically in their interactions with other Christians, especially at the Lord's Table. (For some it will even come out in prayer, etc.)

For example, the Roman Catholics will not commune Lutherans--nor would we want to commune with them. But Rome makes clear that they will commune the Eastern Orthodox, since they view them as having "valid" apostolic succession.

So Rome *views* or *thinks of* the Eastern Orthodox as a "sister church" that is close to her.

But how does the East view itself?

The Eastern Orthodox absolutely forbid their parishioners from communing at a Roman Catholic church (or Eastern Catholic, for that matter). The East only allows their faithful to commune at an Orthodox church. In fact, to commune elsewhere is seen as very serious, even excommunicating oneself.

So the East *views* of *thinks of* herself not as a "sister church" with Rome. Instead, she views Rome as in error and herself as the truth.

***So what does this have to do with Lutheranism?***

I remember when I was evangelical and reformed, and how I thought of the Lutherans during that time. At the time, I *viewed* them and *thought of* them as just another denomination of Christianity. (Rome and the East were not Christian at all, of course, under such thinking.) After all, they taught justification by faith alone, so they had the Gospel. I just thought they were wrong on those naughty sacraments.

I had no problem saying they were welcome to come to my church's version of the Lord's Supper. I didn't see what the big deal was. I mean, we're all Christians, right? I mean I don't think I would have communed at a Lutheran church, because they had naughty sacraments. But they were welcome to commune at mine. It was, after all, simply a memorial or simply a spiritual presence by faith.

I was offended that they would not commune with me.

I was offended that Luther told Zwingli that he was "of another spirit."

I didn't understand what the big deal was.

After all, Lutheranism was "just another denomination" among many. Just another valid choice, right?

***Now that I'm Lutheran, I totally understand.***

You see, we Lutherans do *not*, I repeat, we do NOT view ourselves the way our evangelical and reformed friends view us.

We do NOT think of ourselves as just another "valid choice" of many denominations.

We do NOT think of the Lord's Supper as simply a memorial or only a "spiritual presence."

No indeed.

We view ourselves as an entire *branch* of Christianity.

In fact, we view Lutheranism as where the Gospel is preached most purely.

And we consider other branches and denominations as heterodox.

This is why we cannot in good conscience partake of Holy Communion anywhere else than with those Lutheran churches we are in fellowship with. This is why historically our Confessions and historic Lutheranism has always taken this position.

To take communion at a church that denies the Real Presence would aid and abet that false view of the Supper. In fact, to us, with all due respect to our friends, that false view is blasphemous.

How Christ instituted the Supper means everything to us.


Christ did not institute a supper that was only a memorial where one only remembers in action what He did.

Christ did not institute a supper that points us back to ourselves wondering if we have faith.

Christ did not institute a supper that has us raise ourselves up by faith to feed on Him only spiritually.

No indeed.

Christ furthermore did not institute a supper that atones for the sins of the living not present, nor did He institute a supper that forgives the sins of the dead.

No indeed.

Christ instituted His Most Holy Supper as His True Body and True Blood, given to us to eat, in our mouths, for the forgiveness of all of our sins.

*That* is the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.


So now you can hear it straight from the horse's mouth.

We Lutherans are not just another denomination of Christianity.

We Lutherans do not view all denominations as equally valid.

We Lutherans believe that justification by faith alone must stay central at all times.

We Lutherans reject any sort of turning oneself to their own faith.

We Lutherans believe the Gospel is always outside of us.

We Lutherans see the Word spoken and the Sacraments administered as vital for assurance of salvation and comfort.

We Lutherans see pastoral care as connected to the comfort of the Word and Sacraments.

We Lutherans see *this* Good News as truly Good News, and to be proclaimed to the world.

***So, my fellow Lutherans, please do not let others tell you who you are.***

****For those who really want to know who we are, our Confessions are summarized in the Book of Concord. www.bookofconcord.org ****

This is who we are.

We are simply beggars.

This is most certainly true.