Lutherans Avoid Rome’s Faulty Practice but Embrace Evangelicalism’s Faulty Practice, Doctrine and Practice: Resisting the Influence of Evangelicalism, Part V, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(These posts are adapted from a presentation Pastor Preus made in Sweden for the North European Luther Academy in 2006 and which was republished in the recent edition of Logia, A Journal of Lutheran Theology. We recommend both groups to the Brothers of John the Steadfast. The other posts in this series are archived in the Brothers’ Cafe under Klemet’s name.)

New Evangelicalism and it Practices


Most conscientious Lutheran pastors would scrupulously avoid the practices of Rome because we know that these practices are inherently heterodox and destructive of the true gospel. And well we should. They promote and picture Rome’s system of works-righteousness. Yet, we treat Evangelicalism differently. Many Lutherans today, blindly and with hardly a thought of the spiritual and theological consequences, accept the practices of Arminian Evangelicalism, practices which promote and picture the false doctrine of that system.


What precisely is this system of theology and its practices?


Evangelicalism has taken one aspect of Calvinistic theology and made that aspect its central teaching. Calvin had said,


So long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and died for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us. And, although it is true that we obtain faith, yet, as 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 to inquire into the secret power of the Spirit, through which we enjoy Christ and all his blessings. [1]


This “secret power of the Spirit,” became key for the Reformed in America. John Calvin believed that the sovereignty of God was the central article of the Christian faith and he defined all the articles of faith by it. Consequently, he believed that God was sovereign over the Gospel itself. The Word was not inherently powerful to Calvin. It became powerful and blessed with the Spirit’s attendance when and where it pleased the sovereign God. “Nothing is effected by the Word without illumination of the Holy Spirit…. [The Word] cannot penetrate into our minds unless the internal teacher, the Spirit, make way for it by his illumination.” [2] This unpredictable illumination of the Spirit was, for Calvin, the “secret power.”


At first American Protestants embraced the strictly Calvinistic understanding of the “Secret power.” So Jonathan Edwards, arguably the greatest 18th century American preacher and thinker, claimed that the divine word, “conveys to our minds these and those doctrines,…but not the sense of the divine excellency of them in our hearts…but that due sense of the heart wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God.” [3] When the “power of God alone decides the efficacy of the means,” [4] rather than the other way around as in Lutheranism, a certain unpredictability ensues. You can preach the gospel well enough but God may not, sovereignly, decide that He wants the gospel to be powerful or authoritative on any given day.


But the spirit of human free will and autonomy along with the American ideal of individualism swept the new world in the aftermath of America’s Revolutionary War. Consequently over the next 50 years Calvin gave way to Arminius in America. William Warren Sweet, “the most industrious and tireless fact-finding historian of churches in early America,” claims that two types of Protestant churches existed in Europe at the time of the great emigrations to America. He calls them “right-wing churches” which were the established churches in the old world and “left wing churches,” which were not. While both types of churches crossed the Atlantic, it was the “left wing” churches which “made the greatest contribution of thought and life to the New World.” According to Sweet the influential “left-wing churches” stressed the “inner, personal character of religion, played down the church’s institutional character and placed much less stress upon creeds and sacraments.” [5]   These left wing churches evolved into American Evangelicalism. William McLoughlin has defined Evangelicalism as, “the story of the decline of Calvinism, the Protestant Counter Reformation against deism, and the emergence of a new theological consensus on Arminian principles which prevailed between the Second great Awakening and the rise of Modernism.” [6] Paul Conkin adds to the definition the Evangelical “emphasis on the necessity of a crisis-like conversion experience.” [7] George Marsden claims that, “revivals marked the beginning of the attempt to build a new Christian community united by intense feeling.” [8]   So, Evangelicalism is a non creedal, non-sacramental, Arminian branch of the Reformed Church united by a belief in an intense emotional experience of faith


The practices which were developed by Evangelicalism are not difficult to predict. I will analyze three: the cultivation of personal experience as the assurance of grace, praise worship services and speaking in tongues.


[1] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975) Volume I p. 463. The material in this section was previously published in Klemet Preus “The Difference between Evangelical and Lutheran Preaching in American,” in The Pieper Lectures: Preaching through the Ages (Concordia Historical Institute and The Luther Academy: 2004) 107-111.

[2] John Calvin, “The Internal Testimony of the Spirit” in Richard Lischer, Theories of Preaching: Selected Readings in the Homiletical Tradition   (Durham NC: The Labyrinth Press, 1987) p. 311-322.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, Selections, Ed. Clarence Faust and Clarence Johnson (New York: Hill and Wang, 1935) p. 110.

[4] Conrad Cherry, “Conversion: Nature and Grace,” Critical Essays on Jonathan Edwards, Ed. William Schieck (Boston: G. K. Hall and Company, 1980) p. 80.

[5] Harold Bosley, “The Role of Preaching in American History,” in DeWitte Holland, Preaching in American History ( Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969 ) p. 26.

[6] William G. McLoughlin, ed. The American Evangelicals 1800-1900, An Anthology, (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968) p. 1.

[7] Paul K. Conkin, The Uneasy Center: Reformed Christianity in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of north Carolina Press 1995) p. 65. See also Martin Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company 1984) p. 470. 473.

[8] George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, The shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980) p. 45.




About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


Lutherans Avoid Rome’s Faulty Practice but Embrace Evangelicalism’s Faulty Practice, Doctrine and Practice: Resisting the Influence of Evangelicalism, Part V, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 3 Comments

  1. In Calvinism, you have an unscriptural belief that God’s Word is of no effect. As a Calvinist, how can you believe that God gives all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all(Roms 11:32-33) And another piece of Scripture ,How will they know unless they hear and finally the Word of God is Sharper than any two edged sword. How is some one to be brought to repentance if the word being preached has no effect itself? It is simple to say that our Calvinist friends are in error!

    As for the Arminians, I remember having a discussion with an Arminian Baptist who I believe is still bothered with what I told her about an aunt. I said her aunt who was a Muslim is not a partaker of Christ’s Gift of Salvation because knowing the Ten Commandments is not enough because we cannot keep them. My other issue is this since we are all dead and trespassers in sin and without Christ cannot please God how can I ask Christ into my heart.

    These two extremes are not the Theology of Lutheranism and arein great error as both deny the True Sovereignty of God and his Gift of Salvation through Christ Jesus Our Lord!

  2. For an excellent comparison of Calvin’s vs. Luther’s views of soteriology see the speech Phillip Cary gave to the 2007 symposium at the CTS (at Fort Wayne) at Upon reading this article it is easy to see how American Evangelicalism evolved into it’s current neo-Pentecostal state. The worst, though, in my experience are those American Evangelicals who are thoroughly saturated with Arminian principles, but insist upon adhering to so-called “five-point” Calvinism.

    George in Wheaton

  3. This is confusing.

    What, exactly, is meant by “Arminian branch of the Reformed Church?” Seems like a contradiction in terms to me. The Reformed Churches reject Arminian theology just as emphatically as Lutherans. And how can you be thoroughly saturated with Arminian principles while adhering to Calvinism? Or are we talking about those who just SAY they adhere to Calvinism, while actually adhering to Arminianism? Krypto-Arminians, if you will.

    I appreciate the critique of modern evangelicalism, but to call it an “Arminian branch of the Reformed Church” goes a bit far, I think.

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