A Jagged Word


“A logical syllogism has a major premise that refers to a universal principle…

Major Premise: ‘Whoever truly believes and becomes of a right spirit is elect.’

It is no coincidence that this is an alternation of the baptismal promise in Mark 16:16, and the major premise must have a minor that applies it to a concrete situation:

Minor: ‘But in fact I believe.’

This is understood to be the ‘internal word,’ put there by the Spirit and read out from the heart. Thus we have the subtle beginning of the two-stage process that moves from external to internal. The conclusion of the logical syllogism is then without any doubt:

Conclusion: ‘Therefore, I am elect.’

The crucial matter in this logic becomes the minor premise. Everything about faith becomes internal, and rests upon the truth of the statement: ‘But in fact believe.’ By the syllogism, faith curves into itself and depends upon the faithfulness of the faithful – that is believing in one’s own belief.

Luther warned of this problem in his Smalcald Articles when he witnessed the way Protestant enthusiasm functioned. For purposes of contrast we can set up Luther’s kind of ‘syllogism,’ which he learned from Paul:

Major: Christ has said, ‘I baptism you’ (by the preacher)

Minor: Christ is faithful to his promise despite my unfaithfulness

Conclusion: I am baptized even in the face of sin (that is, ‘shall be saved’).

Faith is in the word put in the water, and is certain because Christ is faithful. Faith does not turn inward, but ecstatically goes out from itself into Christ’s death and resurrection, which is always an ‘alien righteousness’ given by an external word. This is a preached soteriology rather than a conversion soteriology. Now conversion soteriology can be ‘crass’ or ‘subtle’ as the Formula of Concord put it. It can obviously reject the sacraments, or subtly rejects them relegating them to the status of ‘seals,’ or ‘confirmations,’ or ‘analogies’ of faith, but faith nevertheless that belongs in some other place than in the word put into the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper or the word put in the water of baptism.”

– Steven D. Paulson, “Lutheran Theology” (167-168)