(Editor’s Note: We started this series a few months ago but were interrupted by the trademark issue. Bethany Tanis has authored many great comments on the BJS website, particularly concerning Calvinism and so we asked her to do a little writing for us on the relationship between Calvinism and Evangelicalism. It is a good thing for the Brothers and all our readers to understand the various denominational tag lines out there as we seek to uphold the Lutheran Confessions and distinguish them from false confessions. Bethany has a Ph.D. from Boston College in modern British history and is starting an assistant professorship in modern European history at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI in the fall. This is part five of a six part series.)
Calvinism, Modern American Evangelicalism, and Lutheranism #5: The Certainty of Salvation
Are you certain of your salvation? How do you obtain certainty? As Lutherans, we objectively know that Christ died on the cross for our salvation around 33AD. But how do I know that this salvation is for me personally? Again, as a Lutheran, I would look outside myself to my baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, to the fact that I have heard the Gospel, and to the fact that I receive Christ’s very body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. But if I was a Calvinist how would I answer?
Remember that for Calvin the means of grace (the Word and Sacraments) cannot convey God’s gracious presence to us. This is because Calvin believed Jesus was bodily in heaven at God’s right hand and therefore could not descend to us in the Word and Sacraments. If we cannot look outside of ourselves to know that God’s righteousness is for us, where can we look? Remember also that since confessional Calvinists believe that God predestined some people to damnation and that, therefore, Christ died only for the elect, the problem of discerning whether or not you are among the elect is especially urgent. How then does the Calvinist know he is saved? Calvin answered that the certainty of salvation comes from the direct indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Believers looked for evidence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts and lives to obtain assurance of salvation.
This method of obtaining certainty of salvation has deeply influenced American Evangelicalism. Both Calvin and modern Evangelicals would agree that although it is objectively true that Christ died on the cross, to know if this salvation is for you, you must discern the Spirit’s presence in your own life. Whether one sees evidence of the Spirit’s saving presence in attending the worship services and receiving the Sacraments, in heartfelt emotions or dispositions, or in a life of “purpose-driven” good works, Calvin’s doctrine of the direct assurance of the Spirit takes the emphasis off Christ’s works and puts it on to ours.
So-called “contemporary worship” popular among many Evangelicals implies a Calvinist doctrine of the direct agency of the Holy Spirit. For strict Calvinists, the Holy Spirit does not work through means, rather, He acts directly on the human heart. The connection between God and man is less the Incarnate God-man Jesus Christ and more the direct activity of the Holy Spirit. How then can the Calvin-influenced Protestant meet God in worship? He cannot encounter God in the reception of the Word in the liturgy and readings or through the Sacraments because Calvin believed these finite means could not convey the divine. Rather, God meets man in worship through the direct activity of the Holy Spirit on man’s heart.
How does man know God has met him in his heart? One way favored by contemporary Evangelicals is through a felt emotional response to God. In order to conjure up this feeling, a certain type of music and atmosphere becomes necessary. The focus of the service thus turns away from Christ’s objective presence outside of us and for us and toward the generation of a subjective state believed to be open to the Spirit. Despite the negative impact of Calvin’s theology on contemporary worship practices, confessional Calvinists share much theologically with confessional Lutherans and are often appalled at the lack of reverence exhibited by Evangelicals. The next post will look at similarities between confessional Lutheranism and confessional Calvinism.
 See David P. Scaer, Christology, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics Series Vol. 6 (St. Louis, Missouri: Luther Academy, 1989), chapter 3.
 See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter I, 1; Internet, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.ii.html; accessed 4 February 2009. Calvin writes: “1. We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son…. To communicate to us the blessings which he received from the Father, he must become ours and dwell in us. … And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that we enjoy Christ and all his blessings.”
 Scaer, Christology, 28.