Should We Baptize the Babies? (Part 2)

Yesterday I directed your attention to an interesting discussion taking place on the Reformation21 Blog. Rick Philips has made some remarks on the paedo-baptist position, to which I have been responding. I am continuing that response here since Philips has posted another entry: “Wet v. Dry Christian Babies.”

Philips writes:

I would observe that this does not answer the uniform testimony of the Bible as to the application of covenant signs and seals to children of believers (including Peter’s new covenant teaching in Acts 2).

Paedo-baptists often appeal to Acts 2:39 to show that children of Christians are included in the New Covenant: “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” For the paedo-baptist, this verse is cited as slam-dunk proof of “the uniform testimony of the Bible as to the application of covenant signs and seals to children of believers.”

I am surprised at how so many people can so consistently misread this text. Clearly, the “promise” is for three groups of people: (1) “you,” the listeners hearing Peter preach, (2) “your children,” the children of the people in group 1, and (3) “to the ones who are far off,” probably Gentiles (cf. Isa 57:19 LXX; Eph 2:14, 17). All three of these groups are delimited by the final phrase of the verse: “as many as the Lord our God shall call to himself.”

The final qualifying phrase indicates that not everyone in the three groups has the promise extended to them. Only those that the Lord “calls to Himself” are the proper recipients of the promise. It is, therefore, no more proper to assume that the promise applies to all children of believers than it is to assume that it applies to “all who are far off.” The promise is linked to calling.

Thus, those who are included in the New Covenant are those who have been called.

Brian McLaren Strikes Again

Pastor Brian McLaren responds to the responses to his response to “the homosexual question” that he wrote about last week. This newest essay extends to three times as long as his original piece, but it can be summed up as follows: McLaren still doesn’t have a position on whether homosexuality is a sin, and most of those who responded to his original piece are not very nice. We shouldn’t discuss the homosexual question until conservatives learn how to be nice to people they disagree with.

You can go read the entire McLaren essay on Christianity Today’s leadership blog at the following link: “Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 4: McLaren’s Response.” There is plenty to comment on in this new piece, and I will offer some critical observations here.

McLaren writes:

Many readers seem to assume that by quoting verses from Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians, they have solved the problem.

I think the issue here is that we are not agreed as to what the “problem” is. McLaren seems to think that the main “problem” is that conservatives aren’t “pastoral” in the way that they respond to homosexuals. But his definition of “pastoral” seems to be something along the lines of being in touch with other people’s woundedness—a definition far short of the biblical ideal (Acts 20:28-31).

But for many of us, we define the main “problem” far differently than does McLaren. Yes, we could all be nicer, but it doesn’t help anyone if Christians are nice without also being truthful. We don’t have a Gospel for homosexuals to believe in if we cannot call them simultaneously to repentance from their sin. This goes not just for how we address homosexuals, but for how we address any sinner. And if we cannot say to them that God desires to save them from their sin (including homosexuality) then the Gospel becomes a truncated perversion of the message that the Bible calls us to preach. If at least part of the “problem” includes whether or not to call homosexuality sin, then yes “quoting from Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians” does provide a solution.

McLaren also writes:

We have become aware of as-yet unanswered scholarly questions, such as questions about the precise meaning of malakoi and arsenokoitai in Paul’s writings, and we wonder why these words were used in place of paiderasste, the meaning of which would be much clearer if Paul’s intent were to address behavior more like what we would call homosexuality.

Here we need to make a technical note. The words malakoi and arsenokoitai appear in 1 Corinthians 6:9, and scholars do dispute their meaning. But paiderastês actually denotes a more specific activity—the practice of older men having homosexual relations with young boys. Contrary to McLaren’s claim, therefore, pederasty is not “the behavior more like what we would call homosexuality.” Most of us use the term homosexuality to refer to all same-sex sexual activity and orientation. This sentence doesn’t adequately reflect what is going on in scholarly discussions, and it betrays more misunderstanding on his part than it does careful attention to a subtle debate.

McLaren also makes this unbelievable statement:

These questions are all the more challenging for some of us when we realize that the Leviticus texts themselves, if taken literally, call for the death penalty. Nobody (I don’t think?) takes that literally, nor do we take many of the other 611 Mosaic proscriptions literally. Why take these selected verses literally, and only partially so?

Here, McLaren employs an old liberal saw that in one fell swoop relativizes the entire Old Testament law! Now I know there are huge hermeneutical debates about how the OT law relates to us as NT believers, but this statement from McLaren makes it look as if he thinks Evangelicals have no answers to these kinds of questions. All this remark really does is give ammunition to those who would like to treat the Bible as an irrelevant book.

McLaren also claims that some of the responders have said things about him that aren’t true: “we only wish they could extend the same grace and not assume or assert things about us that aren’t true.” One thing about McLaren that is true is that he continues to stay mum on the morality of homosexuality. Contrary to his claim at the end of the article that he still hasn’t taken a position, McLaren needs to know that not taking a position is a position.

For this reason, his non-stance on homosexuality more resembles that of one who is “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7) than it does a pastor who would faithfully lead his flock.

Here are the Relevant Articles on CT’s Leadership Blog:

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 4: McLaren’s Response

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 3: A Prologue and Rant by Mark Driscoll

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question 2: A Blogger’s Response

Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question: Finding a Pastoral Response

Should We Baptize the Babies?

I would like to direct your attention to an interesting discussion taking place on the Reformation21 Blog. Various reformed theologians and personalities contribute to this blog, and the format is somewhat of a conversation among the various contributors.

Yesterday, the lone Baptist contributor, Justin Taylor, asked the paedo-baptists the following question: “According to covenant theology, what is the difference between the baby of a Presbyterian and the baby of a Baptist? . . . what privileges and benefits would [a Baptist baby] lack?”

To my mind, this is the million-dollar question that my Presbyterian brothers cannot answer sufficiently. Rick Philips attempted a response today, but I think he hit way wide of the mark. Allow me to elaborate on my disagreement as I comment on excerpts from Philips’s response:

We baptize our babies not to bring them into covenant relationship with God but because of their covenant relationship with God . . . Since baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the church, we apply it to our children. We do not believe that by birth our children possess eternal life, but we do believe that by virtue of being our children, they are in covenant with God

This statement gets to the heart of the difference between Baptists and Paedo-baptists. Unlike paedo-baptists, Baptists believe that the New Covenant is “not like” the old Covenant. In the New Covenant all covenant members will have the law written on their heart and will have their sins forgiven (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13). Unregenerate children do not participate in these new covenant privileges (the law on their heart and the forgiveness of sins), even though their Christian parents may be nurturing them in the instruction of the Gospel.

Contrary to Philips, for Baptists baptism signifies much more than what he alleges. Philips says that Baptists hold baptism to be “an outward sign of an inward change.” This statement is partly accurate, but actually leaves the Baptist position open to caricature. I have often been told by paedo-baptist brothers, “You believe that baptism signifies your faith, but we believe it signifies God’s promise.” They seem to imply in this that Baptists think baptism signifies what a person does for God, while Presbyterians believe it signifies what God has done for us in the Gospel. This is an effective rhetorical device and has caused many a reformed Baptist to blush for holding a position that seemingly contradicts the sovereignty of God in salvation. But our own historic Baptist creeds demonstrate that this is not an accurate description of our position.

Our best creeds explain Baptism as signifying no less than two things: (1) what God has done for His people in the Gospel, and (2) the believer’s participation in the Gospel. For instance, chapter 29 of the London Baptist Confession says that baptism is “a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection.” In other words, Baptism signifies in the first instance Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf (what God has done for us) and our participation in what Christ has done for us (see also “The Abstract of Principles”). For Baptists, this is the most faithful way to understand texts like Romans 6:1ff where Christ’s work on our behalf and our participation in it are both signified in baptism: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). [There is much more to be said here, but I will leave it at that for the sake of space].

To my mind, Philips never adequately answered Justin’s question. Philips writes:

So what is the cash value of infant baptism for us, which we think Baptist babies are denied? We believe that the Baptist approach fails to recognize the place of children in the church, with very real privileges and obligations.

What Philips fails to do is to answer what these “privileges and obligations” consist of. Certainly it is much more than the ability to say the Lord’s prayer, which he says only baptized infants can do with any theological integrity. Both kinds of children are brought up having the Gospel preached to them, so what benefit does the baptized baby have? I would still like to know.

Mark Driscoll Takes a Whack at McLaren Too

Well, if you thought Doug Wilson’s firebombing of McLaren was severe (see previous post), you haven’t seen anything yet. The cussing pastor Mark Driscoll is also outraged at McLaren’s non-stance on homosexuality. The lambaste appears on the same blog that hosted McLaren’s original essay.

“A Rant by Mark Driscoll” – Out of Ur

I cannot endorse the coarseness of Driscoll’s response, but it is significant because it represents a division between two Emergent leaders over this very pressing issue.

Doug Wilson’s Firebombing of Brian McLaren

There are a lot of things that Doug Wilson and I don’t agree on (not the least of which is our interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s letters). But I have to say that he is one the most effective rhetoricians that I have ever read. His loquacious pyrotechnics rank right up there with the rhetorical hand-grenades that Martin Luther used to hurl at his opponents with great effect.

Doug Wilson pulls no punches in his recent critique of Pastor Brian McLaren’s inability to define homosexuality as sin (click here to see McLaren’s article). In a few short paragraphs, Wilson mounts a withering assault on McLaren’s tortured argument and then finishes him off with a wallop:

If you don’t know what to think about homosexuality, then get out of the ministry. If you can’t read the big E on the eye chart, then why should the rest of us follow you into the ditch? Now homosexuality is not the most important issue in the Bible, not by a long shot. But it is, thank God, one of the clearest. And if it is not clear to McLaren, or by his account, to most of the leaders of the emerging movement, then the time has come to look for another calling, and I hear UPS is looking for reliable drivers.

If someone were to ask me whether the Bible teaches that Jesus went to Capernaum, I would say yes, it does. I would not be in agony over the question. It is not the most important question, but it is clear. If someone were to ask if the apostle Paul taught that homosexual behavior (both male and female forms) is the dead end result of idolatry, I would say yes again. No agony in the exegesis whatever. There is only agony if you are lusting after respect from the world, which they will not give to you unless you are busy making plenty of room for their lusts. And that is what the emergent movement is doing — this is really all about sex. And, conveniently enough, this has the added benefit of making room for evangelical lusts. Son of a gun. All that agony paid off. . . (source).

The emergent folks who read Wilson’s critique will immediately write him off as having committed the unforgivable sin of being not-nice. Nevertheless, the frustration demonstrated in Wilson’s piece is one that is shared by many of us conservatives who can’t figure out why some of the Emergent folk always seem to be learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

The sting of Wilson’s rebuke is not just the rhetoric, it’s the truth of the charge. I hope some will have the ears to hear it.

Review of “Where Is Boasting?”

Simon J. Gathercole. Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. 311pp. $32.00.

Simon J. Gathercole fires a salvo into the ongoing battle over Paul’s doctrine of Justification and the new perspective on Paul. In Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5, Gathercole contends with the growing consensus among Pauline scholars that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a legalistic religion of merit, but a gracious dispensation of covenantal election. This work represents Gathercole’s Ph.D. dissertation which he wrote under the supervision of James D. G. Dunn, with whom Gathercole is in decided disagreement.

Gathercole argues that E. P. Sanders’ scheme of “getting in” and “staying in” has very little eschatology (p. 23). That is, Jewish soteriology was based not merely on divine election (à la covenantal nomism), but also on final salvation by works (à la eschatological judgment). According to Gathercole, new perspective scholars have overemphasized the former at the expense of the latter. Gathercole attempts to show that the evidence of second-Temple Jewish literature paints a different picture.

Continue reading Review of “Where Is Boasting?”

Review of “Where Is Boasting?”

Simon J. Gathercole. Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002. 311pp. $32.00.

Simon J. Gathercole fires a salvo into the ongoing battle over Paul’s doctrine of Justification and the new perspective on Paul. In Where Is Boasting: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul’s Response in Romans 1-5, Gathercole contends with the growing consensus among Pauline scholars that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a legalistic religion of merit, but a gracious dispensation of covenantal election. This work represents Gathercole’s Ph.D. dissertation which he wrote under the supervision of James D. G. Dunn, with whom Gathercole is in decided disagreement.

Gathercole argues that E. P. Sanders’ scheme of “getting in” and “staying in” has very little eschatology (p. 23). That is, Jewish soteriology was based not merely on divine election (à la covenantal nomism), but also on final salvation by works (à la eschatological judgment). According to Gathercole, new perspective scholars have overemphasized the former at the expense of the latter. Gathercole attempts to show that the evidence of second-Temple Jewish literature paints a different picture.

Gathercole traces the theme of “boasting” in second-Temple Jewish texts (Part 1) and in Paul’s argument in Romans 1-5 (Part 2). He shows that “boasting” in Paul and the Jewish literature refers to “confidence of vindication in the final judgment” (p. 23). Such “boasting” relies on obedience to the totality of Jewish law as the condition of and basis for final vindication in the final judgment. For Gathercole, salvation in Judaism, contrary to new perspective scholarship, does rely on works of obedience.

Gathercole’s work is important because it challenges one of the central claims of New Perspective proponents. They have alleged that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not legalistic because “legal works” were not viewed as the basis for “getting into” a right relationship with God. “Legal works” were merely a means of “staying in” that right relationship.

Gathercole has shown that second-Temple Judaism did indeed hold to a final salvation for the righteous on the basis of works (p. 266). In other words, New Perspective scholars have emphasized the gracious character of Israel’s election at the expense of the legal works that are required for one to stand at the final judgment.

In many ways, what Gathercole has done is to balance the scales a little bit. He shows that there has been somewhat of a false antithesis between election and legalism in descriptions of first century Judaism. For Gathercole, Jewish soteriology is based both on divine election and on eschatological salvation by works (p. 33). Any description of Judaism that fails to emphasize both is not being faithful to the sources.

Some reviewers of Gathercole’s work allege that New Perspective scholars have always given eschatological salvation by works its proper place in describing Jewish soteriology. But this reviewer disagrees with that assessment. New Perspective proponents rarely if ever give proper weight to the indications that Judaism was in some sense legalistic. Gathercole offers a needed course correction in this respect.

This is a valuable book and a must read for anyone who is interested in getting outside of the echo-chamber that is modern Pauline scholarship. Gathercole has made his point—rather, the sources have made their point, and every New Testament scholar would do well to hear them.