Kolb, Robert. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.
Epitome “II. Concerning the Free Will” pp. 491-494.
Solid Declaration “II. Concerning the Free Will or Human Powers” pp. 543-562.
Article 2 of the Formula of Concord discusses the idea of free will. “Because the human will is found in four dissimilar situations (1. before the fall; 2. after the fall; 3. after new birth; 4. after the resurrection of the flesh), t he primary question concerns only the human will and capacity in the second situation…” (Kolb 2000, 491). The question addressed, then, is that of free will after the fall, but not in the new birth. Can people use their own power to turn to God’s grace?
The Epitome lists three positive theses. First, “human reason and understanding are blind in spiritual matters and understand nothing on the basis of their own powers” when dealing with spiritual matters (Kolb 2000, 491). Second, the unregenerated person “is not only turned away from God but has also become God’s enemy” (Kolb 2000, 492). The text quotes Genesis 8:21, Romans 8:7, Ephesians 2:5, and 2 Corinthians 3:5. Third, the Holy Spirit uses means. He accomplishes conversion through preaching and hearing of God’s Word. The text quotes from Romans 1:16, Romans 10:17, Acts 16:14, Romans 9:16, 1 Corinthians 3:7, John 15:5, and 1 Corinthians 9:16.
In light of the above theses, there are nine negative statements made about false teaching. First, the determinism of Stoics and Manichaens is rejected (Kolb 2000, 492). Second, Pelagianism, with its teaching of a human will which can convert itself is rejected (Kolb 2000, 493). Third, Semi-Pelagianism, which assumes human will and divine will in cooperation in salvation is rejected. Fourth, a view that the Holy Spirit begins the work of salvation and humans then cooperate is rejected. Fifth, the concept of the Christian being able to keep God’s law in its entirety after salvation is rejected. Sixth, the view of Enthusiasts is rejected, as it asserts salvation apart from means of grace such as God’s Word and Sacraments. Seventh, the idea of the old creature being utterly destroyed and a brand new soul being created in salvation is rejected. Eighth the idea that the Holy Spirit is given to those who persist in stubbornly rejecting Him is rejected. Finally, the idea that the Holy Spirit draws those who are willing is rejected.
The distinctions among these different rejections are quite fine. A good summary is found in paragraph 17. “It is correct to say that in conversion God changes recalcitrant, unwilling people into willing people through the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, and that after this conversion the reborn human will is not idle in the daily exercise of repentance, but cooperates in all the works of the Holy Spirit which he performs through us” (Kolb 2000, 494).
In the Solid Declaration we are given more information about the root of the controversy. There were theological debates among those recognizing the Augsburg Confession about the role of the will in salvation Really, meditating on God's ways ought to shed biblical light on every situation of our lives (Kolb 2000, 543). Because this was also a matter of dispute among those who didn’t subscribe to the Augsburg Confession, it seemed important to explain the doctrine in more detail.
In paragraph seven we read “[t]hat in spiritual and divine matters, the mind, heart, and will of the unreborn human being can in absolutely no way, on the basis of its own natural powers, understand, believe, accpt, consider, will, begin, accomplish, do, effect, or cooperate. Instead, it is completely dead to the good - completely corrupted” (Kolb 2000, 544). The authors do admit that their view is counter to most human reason and philosophy. Yet they affirm it to be a biblical view. It does not negate the idea that unregenerate humans have some wisdom, or even a concept that there is some such thing as a god. It does, however, affirm that, apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no way in the world that people will grasp the truth of God or the salvation provided in Christ. There follows a lengthy list of biblical citations indicating that God’s wisdom is grasped only through the work of the Holy Spirit. Apart from this, people are spiritually dead and cannot gain spiritual life of their own volition any more than a person who is bodily dead can bring himself back to life (Kolb 2000, 545). This is a much more comprehensive explanation of the first positive thesis from the Epitome.
A second positive theses is that the unregenerated human is not only turned away from God, but is also turned toward evil against God (Kolb 2000, 547). Again, we are given a number of biblical citations discussing the way people are naturally opposed to God’s will, even after the new birth. Paragraph 18 then asserts that it is only logical to recognize a hostility to God before the new birth. The argument does not deny that unregenerated people are non-rational or intellectually incapable. In fact, the unregenerated person can hear the Word of God and consider it. It’s also quite possible to do some things which are considered good in the temporal world. However, the text quotes Luther’s comments on Psalm 90, saying “in spiritual and divine matters, which concern the soul’s salvation, the human being is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, indeed like a block of wood or a stone, like a lifeless statue…” (Kolb 2000, 548). The person does not know God’s grace or God’s wrath and will potentially live a life oblivious to them, unless confrtonted by God’s Word and Holy Spirit.
Christian conversion, then is described as entirely caused by divine activity. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Christian believes because the Holy Spirit uses the Scripture in his life, making him a believer. Again, we are given many biblical passages indicative of the concept (Kolb 2000, 549). The Solid Declaration also cites Augsburg Confession article 20 and the Smalcald Articles article 3 to indicate that the position taken in Apology II is consistent with earlier documents of the Reformation (Kolb 2000, 550). Luther’s Large and Smal Catechisms speak to the issue as well (Kolb 2000, 551).
The Solid Declaration moves on to discuss ways in which groups have twisted Christian teaching on free will. Some wish to be converted by God against their will (Kolb 2000, 553). Some would expect God to save them without the use of Word or sacrament. Some would question whether, because of their weakness, God has actually saved them. Therefore, we are presented with further explanation of the way conversion happens.
God’s desire is to save people. This he does through the work of the Holy Spirit speaking through the proclamation of the Word and the administration of sacraments (Kolb 2000, 553). We are given many biblical passages to document this idea. Those in whom a desire to be saved is awakened listen to the proclamation of God’s Word (Kolb 2000, 554). The drawing and the creating of faith is the work of the Holy Spirit, not of the person hearing. Paragraph 54 sums it up this way. “Through these means (the preaching and hearing of his Word), God goes about his work and breaks our hearts and draws people, so that they recognize their sins and God’s wrath through the preaching of the law and feel real terror, regret, and sorrow in their hearts. Through the preaching of the holy gospel of the gracious forgiveness of sins in Christ and through meditating upon it, a spark of faith is ignited in them, and they accept the forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake and receive the comfort of the promise of the gospel. In this way the Holy Spirit, who effects all of this, is sent into their hearts” (Kolb 2000, 554).
What of those who hear and do not believe? “If people do not want to hear or read the proclamation of God’s Word, but disdain it and the congregation of God’s people and then die and perish in their sins, they can neither find comfort in God’s eternal election nor obtain mercy” (Kolb 2000, 555). The Solid Declaration thus describes salvation as entirely from God and rejection as entirely from the human. Earlier humans were described as stone or wood, unable to believe by themselves. But here, in paragraph 59, humans are contrasted with stone or wood. The reason is that stone or wood cannot resist something. But humans do. Those who persistently reject the Holy Spirit will not be converted.
This concept of free will also protects the idea of growth in Christian faith. From the time of baptism, according to Galatians 3:27 and John 8:36, Christians have put on Christ. They continue in receiving nourishment from Word and Sacrament, all given by the Holy Spirit, gaining in strength. Our acts which are against our conscience, neglecting or rejecting the Holy Spirit weaken or even kill the faith within us. But as we receive God’s Word joyfully, we grown strong in Christ (Kolb 2000, 557).
The Solid Declaration moves on to the same negative theses found in the Epitome, in very nearly the same form. Notably, it assigns to “papists and scholastics” what the Epitome assigns to “semi-Pelagians” (Kolb 2000, 558). In sum, “Luther holds that human beings in and of themselves or on the basis of their own natural powers are not capable of anything and cannot help with their own conversion. He holds that conversion is not just in part, but totally and completely a product, gft, present, and activity of the Holy Spirit alone, who accomplishes and effects what is done through his own power and might, working through the Word in the mind, will, and heart of the human being...as in a subject acted upon” (Kolb 2000, 561).