Friday, September 20, 2019

Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Pushback Part I

If you've been following this series you may have noticed my two Pastors commenting on my work. 

Phil it might help those of us who find your musings more amusing than biblical if you actually showed some exegetical proof of the paedobaptist position being 'more biblical'. You assert it but you don't prove it even in the slightest. Even your assertions are unsupported. Give me one example of infant baptism in the bible from a biblical text? Just one. Show me where the scriptures teach that the Abrahamic covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant? Just one place is fine. Show me a text that proves that infants without faith are in the New Covenant? Let's get to the scriptures for the discussion before claiming paedo baptism is the most biblical position. As you said brother, you need to do better. I do think that one of the two ordinances of the church would need to be exemplified for us if we would practice it. No problem citing believers baptism, but paedo baptism is simply not there unless I have missed something. 
When you strip away the ad-hominems you find Robert packs a lot into his comment. 
  1. He asserts that I offered no proof for paedo-baptism being the more Biblical.
  2. He argues that because the Scriptures do not explicitly teach infant baptism (Something like, "I Paul command you to baptize infants") that infant baptism is not Biblical. 
  3. He says that I equate the Abrahamic Covenant to the New Covenant.  
  4. He uses the Baptist definition of New Covenant being equal to salvation, and then questions where faithless infants were saved.
That's a lot.
I'm not going to address point one because I think I've made a good showing of myself from Scripture. Plus his statement just seems mean to me.
Point two is pretty commonly thrown out in debates by the Baptist, but if we required an explicit statement and disallowed good and necessary inference then we'd have to bar the communion table against women because nowhere in Scripture does it say they're allowed to partake. Further, Jesus hung the Sadducees out to dry by pointing out God says "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" implying they're all still alive. Had they died then God would've said "I was the God..."  So good and necessary consequence is a real thing.

Point three I don't know how to deal with because I never made that claim. But Romans 4:11 and Col 2:12 do tend to make the point about the two covenants being related, in the sense Baptists disagree with.
Point four proves my point that the two groups are operating under vastly different conceptions of what covenant and baptism actually mean.


The other comment was left by Steve, and he too packs a lot in.
I could have told you this - "Baptists and Presbyterians have a radically different view of what baptism actually is," and perhaps saved you some reading. :) Though, to be more specific, the "radically different view" between the two is not really over baptism - both confess it to be a "sign" (see WCF 28.1 and LBC 29.1) - but over the new covenant of which it's "a sign." That's the actual question, what's the new covenant? (Presbyterians have a harder time explaining what exactly is new about it). Since the new covenant is spiritual - not genealogical, as was the old - it's sign is only properly administered to those who may be legitimately considered members of the new covenant community, i.e., "who do actually profess repentance..." (LBC, 29.2).
To be fair, there's no problem with the oft-repeated Baptist concern: “Infant baptism is a positively harmful doctrine since infants who are baptized will think they’re saved" - I think you're missing the concern over the de facto state of many Presbyterians, not the consistency of their doctrine. Of course, there's no inconsistency with Presbyterian theological understanding of baptism, but what's the actual impact on people's lives? Many think they're saved because they were sprinkled as babies - it's the (however, unintended) inevitable fruit of a bad doctrine. It's similar, for example, to our concerns over Roman Catholicism, which does believe salvation is by faith through grace - and recoils at any suggestion that teach it's "by works." But what's the practical effect of their sacramental understanding of salvation by grace? Roman Catholics think they're saved by their works.
Paedobaptism is undeniably is a later accretion to the church - no evidence of it's practice earlier than later 2nd or 3rd centuries (look at baptismal archaeology - they're pools for immersing adults!). Of course, it became enforced practice after Christianizing Rome, a century later. There is no exegetical argument for it, which is what Luther confronted during the Reformation when opponents argued that if he carried his argument against Roman tradition to it's logical conclusion, he'd have to throw-out infant baptism, too - which would've sent European society into chaos. So, he invented the "household" argument from Acts and infant baptism has been built on that house of cards in Reformed traditions, ever since. And when you push Presbyterian historians and theologians, eventually they will admit this, "it's tradition" and it's later appearance is a sign of the church "maturing." Now, I believe in doctrinal development, but the church got baptism wrong for it's first couple hundred years?! C'mon.
So, the real key to this debate is understanding that infant baptism can only be deduced from the Bible if you assume it to be the inevitable conclusion before you actually study the Bible - it's a tradition searching for a biblical text. Sadly, people still think they've discovered some and then de-form into Presbyterians. I, however, feel sure of better things in your case, brother (Heb 6:9) - and trust the "most biblical" award goes to 1689 LBC, 29. :)
Steve makes the following points:
  1. The Dispensational Argument is true.
  2. Paedo-baptism is a doctrine that bears bad fruit.
  3. There's no exegetical argument for Infant Baptism.
  4. The practice of the early church was credo-baptism.
  5. Paedo-baptism only makes sense if you accept it's foundational premises
Most of these however were directly addressed by specific articles, so I don't feel the need to go over them again. The only one that wasn't was point two, and I'm not sure how much bearing that has on this investigaiton in any case. I'll leave you to decide for yourself how valid these points of criticism are.








Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Credo-Baptism: Analysis of Covenant Discontinuity

There are two main arguments for the paedo-baptist position and both of them are built on the idea of a continuity between the Old and New Testaments. That means that if there is no covenant continuity then the paedos are doomed and credo-baptism is the necessary result. The premise proved to be well founded however, and as a consequence I am fairly convinced that Scripture make the case that the framework established in the Old carries through to the New. On the other hand there are three arguments for the credo-Baptist that require discontinuity, and if a discontinuity can be established then the paedo-baptist is done for. So can we make the case that the Apostles understood the New Covenant to be introducing a discontinuity in redemptive history that necessitates excluding infants in the New Covenant? Let's take the arguments made in the previous posts in turn.  

First, I’m quite certain that the Apostles were not dispensationalists, and that we can rule that out as a valid explanation for the discontinuity right now. Dispensationalism requires God to wipe out the rules in every age, but if you don’t assume this as a foundational premise and instead try to establish it through evidence you won’t be able to do it. Firstly because there's no verse that explicity says this, which is necssary to the literal interpretation of dispensationalist hermunitic, and second because there is no verse that requires it by good and necessary consequence. Thirdly Dispensationalism should be ruled out because I've not seen any pro-dispensationalist websites or articles don’t even attempt to prove the fundamental premise of discontinuity, as they just put it forward as self-evident, which tells me that it is hard to find if it even exists. Fourthly because Jesus indicates the opposite when He says He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. John affirms the need for obedience to the law in his epistle. Paul appeals to the law to make his case. Nowhere is the law abolished, but everywhere we see the law is “a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path.

Further, dispensationalism is not internally consistent as a system. It can’t account for times when the New Testament seems to pull a quote wildly out of context such as, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.” For had Matthew been a dispensationalists he’d never have said this, knowing that there’s no sensible, literal meaning in the Old Testament on which to justify twisting the meaning of Hosea in that way. But Matthew did say that, and because the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, Matthew must be something much closer to a covenant theologian than dispensationalist. There are other problems too, like how there’s a literal thousand year period of imprisonment for with Satan (a spiritual being) who will be bound by physical chains and cast into a physical pit. Or Joshua 23:14 which says, “…ye know in all your hearts and souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof” because that takes away the need for the millennial kingdom to make up for the incomplete promises given to Abraham. 

And if that’s true then we can’t assume the Jews were an earthly people receiving earthly revelation from God and then disconnect their revelation from the spiritual to get the discontinuity we need. The Jews were a people to whom were entrusted the good news of Christ, and later, the person of Christ Himself, they were not merely a nation to whom God wanted to move into Caanan. Hebrews 12 indicates that the heroes of the faith looked forward to both the work of Christ and His heavenly kingdom, not a physical inheritance.

So then if we don’t have dispensationalist grounds for a discontinuity in redemptive history that justifies reshaping our understanding of covenant inclusion, can we get a discontinuity from the Particular Baptists and Jeremiah 31? Doesn’t the fact that this is a new covenant indicate a new essence rather than just a new form? 

Not really. The Scriptures are pretty clear that covenants were given to support and strengthen our understanding of Christ, and that they’re not identical to salvation—which means covenants are to salvation what the take-home box is to a pizza. It won’t work to say that the covenants in the Old Testament were simple promises that did nothing substantial, while the covenant in the New Testament is a glorious equivalent to salvation, because you can’t justly have multiple ontological definition of the word covenant and pick whichever one is most convenient. Stated differently, you can’t assume a discontinuity which requires two different definitions of covenant, and then use two different definitions of covenant to prove the discontinuity. Either the Old Testament has covenants or the New Testament does, but without continuity they can’t both have covenants in them.

What about the fact that the New Covenant is unbreakable according to Jeremiah 31? Doesn’t that indicate a massive shift has happened and that a huge change was introduced in redemptive history? To a limited extent, yes. But what’s more likely, that the New Covenant is unbreakable because from now on God only lets those who will persevere until the end into His church, or that His Son has become the second Adam, added to Himself a human nature, and stands as our perfect priest before His Father for all eternity? Which makes more sense as to why the New Covenant won’t be broken: God kicks out the immature, or God makes the covenant with Jesus? One is an extrapolation, the other is explicitly affirmed by the book of Hebrews. But even granting that the un-breakability of the New Covenant is not about Christ, and it is about us, there’s not enough strength in that to get to a massive discontinuity. Just because the Old Covenant said ‘if you obey then you will be blessed’ and the New Covenant said ‘I will bless you’ doesn’t mean you can conclude that the inclusion of infants into the covenant is finished.

The other unworkable thing about Jeremiah 31 providing the grounds for the discontinuity is that the New Testament doesn’t denote the word new in New Covenant with the radically, substantially, totally, never-before-seen-new indicator neos that the discontinuity requires. Instead Scripture indicates the New Covenant is new in the sense of being more glorious, more freeing, more inclusive, more clearly set forth, more full of good news, with the Greek word kainos. It’s the Kainos Covenant in 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:8, 8:13, 9:15. It’s the Neos Covenant only in Heb 12:24 where the writer speaks of blood that actually absolves sins. So the New Covenant is substantially different in that the blood shed by the sacrifice works this time, otherwise, there’s the same concepts of signs, boundaries, seals, family headships, promises, meal, fellowship as before. The New Covenant is therefore a refresh of an existing thing, except for the blood of Christ—and that’s not enough to establish the discontinuity the credo-baptist requires.

As a credo-baptist I'm trying to be fair and impartial here, but this isn't encouraging. If you don't assume covenant continuity but demand the proof for it the paedo-baptist has a ready answer, but if you don't assume a discontinuity and demand the proof for it the credo-baptist has no answer. At least, I have been quite unable to think up or uncover an answer in my readings. So I'm going to stop this and move on to examining the historical data.


Next: which side the historic record favors



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Paedo-Baptism: Analysis of Covenant Continuity

In a previous post I examined how well the credo and paedo systems fit the framework given by Scripture, and from that tried to decide which one of them matched the New Testament evidence better. The plan wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped it would be, so now I’m going to look at the differences that separate the two systems and see which is the more Biblical. Is there more evidence for the discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments as the credo-baptist says, or is there more evidence for the continuity as the paedo-baptists asserts? 

To find out I'm going to use the question, "Did the Apostles believe the appearance of the New Covenant created a discontinuity in the given framework of redemption?" as the basis for my investigation. Or stated differently, I'm going to answer the question, "How would the Apostles have understand the promise of Jeremiah 31? Would they see it as requiring the exclusion of their children from the covenant or not?"

In light of how the New Covenant promises to include eunuchs and Gentiles (who were formerly excluded from the covenant community), and in light of how God made it clear to the Jews that covenants are the framework for salvation, the Apostles probably would not have assumed children were automatically removed from the New Covenant. The inclusiveness of the covenant of grace has always expanded with time (the covenant sign is washing which can be applied to infant boys and girls), making it unlikely that anyone would have assumed the New Covenant disallows infants. 

More importantly, Scripture indicates that the Apostles saw themselves as building on what had already come before, not as doing something completely novel. In Acts 2:16 Peter says that his hearers were living through the days spoken of by the prophet Joel, who prophesied that the familiar event of God's spirit being poured out would now be done to many people, not merely a few people. He then transitions into a sermon about how Jesus’ resurrection was foretold by David, and how His coming fulfills the promise God made to Abraham. Knowing his hearers were Jews who gave the covenant signs to their infants, would Peter have made the promise in Acts 2:39 without further qualification or clarification? If so, that's a good way to ensure the gospel would be immediately distorted, not communicated effectively.

Next Peter tells the crowd that Jesus is The Prophet foretold by Moses (Acts 3:22) whom they were obligated to listen to. Again he stresses the promises of God made to Abraham, "Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (Acts 3:25). Peter then quotes the Psalms to the rulers that Jesus is God of salvation (Acts 4:11) and basis his appeal on the fact that they were the children of the promise. This shows that Peter saw the New Covenant as an extension of the previous covenants, not as something completely unique. 

In speaking of the inclusion of the Gentiles into an all Jewish church, James the brother of Jesus quotes the Scriptures (Acts 15) saying, “After this I will return and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up that the reside of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.” In saying this he points out that the Gentiles were being effectively engrafted into the vine of Israel. This is the opposite of a discontinuity. If the credo-baptists were right then James wouldn't have used the word rebuild because that would indicate a refreshing of the existing structure, but would have instead used a word to imply a new construction was happening. Or not quoted the Scriptures at all. But given his response its quite reasonable to conclude the first century Jews saw themselves as the children and inheretiors of the previous promises.  

In addition to Peter and James, Paul also indicates that the inclusion of the Gentiles were not a unique parenthetical in redemptive history. In Romans 11 he compares the Gentiles to branches being grafted into an existing tree, and doesn’t compare the inclusion of the Gentiles to how scaffolding is pulled down once a building is complete. Scaffolding would be much more natural to the credo-paradigm, but the tree which implies continuity of being between the Old and New Testament is foreign to it. 

In Romans 15 Paul quotes the Old Testament to show that the Gentiles were always going to be invited to join Israel. He compares them to visitors adding their number to an assembly already in progress: “Rejoice ye Gentiles with His people” and “Praise the Lord all ye Gentiles, and laud Him all ye people” and “There shall be a root of Jesse and He shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles trust” and “For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles and sing unto thy name.” And in Gal 6:16 he calls the church “the Israel of God.” These statements presuppose a continuity since the Gentiles are joining the established pattern, not founding a new one.

The additional reason this makes the point for continuity is because Peter, James, and Paul spoke before there was a New Testament; to their hearers the Old Testament was the whole of the Scriptures. Therefore any idea of pitting the New against the Old would have been foreign to the Apostles. That means the Old Testament is itself living and active—and it can't be an old irrelevancy that gets supplanted by the new revelation. Besides, even after it comes along the New Testament merely quotes the Old Testament. So any permaent authority the New has must be borrowed from the Old. Thus, the concepts in the book of Romans, Galatians, or Acts show that the worship of the church was a continuation of the worship started during the Old Testament times. And if that's true then children were in the New Covenant just as much as the Old.

What about the evidence that Baptism was only for priests, and that continuity requires it to continue to only be given to adult priests and withheld from infants? There’s a lot of problems with that. In no particular order:
  • The evidence that Jesus was baptized as a priest for service isn't great, and it's this more than any other on which the argument depends. It’s far more likely the event was to conclude John’s purpose in pointing to Christ, or to fulfill our righteousness, than it was to make Him a priest.
  • There’s no collaborating evidence apart from an inference that baptism makes us priests, or that the people going out to John the Baptist were becoming priestly servants to God.
  • Paedo-baptists make circumcision the sign of the righteousness of Christ that comes faith that comes through the gospel in the Old Testament because that’s what Paul says in Romans and Galatiansso baptism must be the sign of the Covenant of Grace itself.
  • Infants were among the children of Israel baptized in the Red Sea. So there is biblical precedence for baptizing infants. Stated another way, baptism can't just be to make priests clean.
  • Levitical priests had to be older than 30 years old to be baptized, as did Jesus, so shouldn’t we wait until age 30 to be baptized?
Ultimately then this argument doesn't work to exclude infants. After everything is presented the paedo-baptist simply shrugs and says, “We agree that baptism is a big and important concept that runs all the way through the Bible.” The argument looks good on paper but once you dig in a little further it collapses and all you’re left with the observation that in the New Covenant God weaves together washing and cleansing into making His sign that much more meaningful.

Looking back, I don’t see any reason to re-structure the concept of covenant which would remove infants from it, and every reason to continue using the framework established by the Old Testament. And that would mean that the paedo-baptists are right and that infants ought to be baptized.


Next: The Evidence of Covenant Discontinunity


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Friday, September 13, 2019

Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Answers to Shared Problems

To the credo, baptism is a physical vow, done by a believer, following their verbal profession of faith, in accordance with the example of the New Testament. To the paedo, baptism is the sign of the New Covenant. 

Which is correct?

To find out, I intend to examine the logical consequences of both views and see which one more closely lines up with Scripture. I expect this to be difficult, since both views seem very reasonable and there’s no direct statement for either position in the Scripture. John never said, “The ontology of Baptism is X, therefore only baptize group Y.” And Luke never said anything like, “Although Timothy had grown up in a believing household, Paul waited to baptize him until his profession of faith was made credible by his good works.”

So I’m validating the two worldviews through circumstantial evidence, like a police investigator taking fingerprints at a crime scene. Individually each a piece of evidence may not be very compelling, but taken together I hope they’ll present a strong case that one view is right and the other is wrong.



Point 1 – Acts indicates belief before baptism

Issue: Acts indicates that those who professed faith were subsequently baptized.
Credo response: This fits our model exactly.
Paedo response: We also believe that an adult convert must profess faith before being baptized, but we also believe that baptism is a household/headship affair. At Pentecost there men who made the pilgrimage across the world to be at Jerusalem in accordance with the command of Deut 16:16 while their families stayed behind. The record of Acts then is not of atomized individuals professing faith, but of men, family heads, being baptized.
Verdict: Tie. Both sides make a compelling case here.



Point 2 – Households were baptized

Issue: The New Testament records five places where the word household is explicitly used when speaking of Baptism (Acts 10:47-48, 16:15; 16:30-31; 18:8; 1 Cor 10:16-18). For example, in the city of Philippi the jailer believed, then his house was baptized.
Credo: Based on the earlier evidence in Acts, it must be the case that the people in the house first heard the good news from Paul and then believed and were baptized. Nowhere in those verses are children mentioned, so assuming there were infants in the jailor’s household is an argument from silence.
Paedo: All baptisms are really “household” baptisms. The very existence of the word house in the text is evidence that the paedo model is correct—no debate on whether there were children in any particular house is needed. The man is the head of the house (Eph 5:23), the man believed, therefore the house was baptized. In the same way covenants are always headship affairs, so Scripture presents baptism as a headship affair.
Verdict: Paedo. If you adopt the household model as the paradigm then the earlier baptisms in Acts make sense, but if you adopt the individualistic model then the household baptisms don’t really follow. Reducing household to all the individuals living under a roof as the credo wants to do doesn’t give a solid basis for explaining why Scripture should so consistently insist that entire households were baptized in my estimation.

The other thing the paedos have going for them is that in Abrahams day the command to circumcise all the males resulted in a large number adults and an unrecorded-but-presumably-small-number-of infants being circumcised (Gen 17:23). After that, the majority of recipients of the covenant sign were infants. At Pentecost the initialization of the sign in like manner may have resulted in a large number of adults receiving the sign (Acts 2:41), and later the majority of recipients being infants. 




Point 3 – Peter said the promise was to their children


Issue: In Acts 2:39 Peter said that the promise was “to you and your children, and all who are far off.”
Credo: Peter should be understood as speaking of three distinct groups, “you [the hearers], your children [those who will one day be old enough to accept], and those who are far off [gentiles who’ll come to faith in Christ much later].
Paedo: Peter should be understood as speaking to two groups, (you and your children) and all who are far off [gentiles]. In grouping “you and your children” together Peter is communicating that Jesus is fulfilling of the promises God made to Abraham.
Verdict: Tie. I can see this both ways.



Point 4 – Children are in the Church

Issue: Acts 21:5 says the children (who were disciples) knelt down and prayed for Paul (and he doesn’t rebuke or correct them for doing this). Then in Eph 6:1-3 and Col 3:20 Paul commands the children who heard his words to obey their parents—meaning they were members of the church with duties and obligations. Is there a difference in the eyes of God between a child who grows up under believing parents and one who doesn’t? Should the children of believers be taught to sing “Jesus loves me”?
Credo: the children should be taught to pray and sing.
Paedo: Greg Welty, a credo-baptist, says, “Parents can have confidence that God hears the prayers of their children to the extent they have confidence that their children have renewed hearts.” If the Baptist paradigm is right then the most logical position is to keep the children from singing Jesus loves me until they make a mature, credible profession of faith and demonstrate they are inside the covenant of salvation. Failure to do this means we’ve sinned by teaching them to presume on the goodness of God or hardened them in their impenitency, since only believers are entitled to the blessings of the church. But this is exactly the opposite of what the New Testament says, and therefore indicates the credo-baptism model is wrong.
Verdict: Paedo wins a small victory. If the credo model is correct then Paul should have instructed the parents to make sure their children obey them, but the text indicates that the children are already part of the church and must act like it. Further, Paul praises Timothy for knowing the Scriptures since infancy (2 Tim 3:14-17), but how would this have happened under a consistent credo paradigm? Credo parents may catechize their children but there’s no mechanism or rational to do so if the church is no larger than the mature professors of faith.


Point 5 – Children in Covenant

Issue: 1 Cor 7:14 says the children of believing parents are holy.
Credo: Holy here means more nearly what we would think of as legitimate. Further, if the children in covenant are holy and should be baptized then the unbelieving adult spouse should also be baptized, but this is an absurd conclusionwhich leads us to realize that the premise is false.
Paedo: Holy can't be equivalent to legitimate because the children of a married couple are always legitimate. Instead, Paul’s use of the word holy is invoking covenant language imported from the Old Testament. In the same way that Peter declared Cornelius was not to be called unclean or outside the covenant (Acts 10:28) so too is the child of the believer not unclean, but holy. This is clear evidence that familial solidarity established in the Old Testament remains true in the New Testament, since the mere presence of believing parents sanctifies the child and makes them holy.
Verdict: Tie/Paedo by a hair. The unbelieving spouse is becoming holy, but the children are already holy, which indicates that they already belong to God.


Point 6 – The Warning Passages

Issue: The New Testament warns the reader to guard their salvation; see Mark 13:13; James 5:11; 2 Cor 13:5; 1 Tim 1:18-20, Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-19; 6:4-8; 10:26-3; 12:25. But we also know from other passages (like 1 John 2:19; Rom 8:29-30, John 6:38-40; Phil 1:4-6, etc) that it’s impossible for a true believer to lose their salvation. So how do we reconcile these two things?
Credo: The warning passages are admonitions designed to keep the believer on track. Just as a mother warns her children not to jump into a blazing furnace, and the warning functions as the means to avoid death, so too do these warnings provide the means to our perseverance.
Paedo: These are actual warning passages for events that could really occur, given to keep us on track. Those who fall away were inside the covenant but outside salvation, so it makes sense to speak of them as moving away from salvation. This is the only way to reconcile the fact that some men lose their salvation (1 Tim 1:18-20) but to all of them God will still say “depart from Me, for I never knew you.”
Verdict: Tie. Both seem to be pretty good to me. I think the edge goes to the paedo, but both are solid answers.


Point 7 – Passive/Active Participation in Baptism

Issue: 1 Peter 3:21 says baptism now saves you, but 1 Cor 1:14 indicates baptism is not the primary idea in salvation. Further, Peter seems to indicate Baptism is something you submit to passively (Acts 2:38) rather than something you engage in. How do we reconcile this?
Credo: Baptism saves us by being an appeal to a good conscience, but it is not the driving force in salvation (that’s faith). 1 Peter 3:21 indicates that baptism is fundamentally an appeal to God for a clean conscience, which is exactly what we say baptism is.
Paedo: Baptism is spoken of in the passive sense by Peter in Acts because it’s the sign that belongs to the church to put on its people, not a sign people proclaim to the church. It’s spoken of as being equal to salvation by Peter in 1 Peter because without God’s promise and righteousness we cannot be saved. At the same time it’s spoken of as unequal to the blood of Christ sacrificed on our behalf because it is unequal in that respect.
Verdict: This is another close one that seems to fall in favor of the paedo. 


Point 8 – Baptism Means ‘Immersion’

Issue: If Baptism is identical to immersion then how were the Israelites baptized into Moses when they crossed the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2)? And how was Jesus referring to crucifixion when He used the word baptism (Matt 20:23)?
Credo: Baptism still means ‘to dip’. Jesus was plunged or dropped into suffering, and likewise the children of Israel were immersed into Moses.
Paedo: Baptism more nearly means ‘to wash; to pour,’ as much as ‘to dip’. Hebrews 9:10 speaks of various baptisms, with the reference in Numbers 19:17-18 being sprinkling. Further, the LXX translates “affrighted” in Isaiah 21:4 as “baptize”, which is what Jesus was quoting from in Matt 20:23.
Verdict: Tie. In fairness, I’m more interested in who is a candidate for baptism more than what is the proper mode of baptism.


Point 9 – Jesus Baptized His Disciples

Issue: Why did Jesus baptize his disciples in John 3:22 and not sooner? Or later? Why do the disciples turn around and immediately baptize the crowds that came to them (John 3:26, 4:2) rather than wait until their lives bore fruit to God?
Credo: The disciples were not baptized until John 3 because they didn't have enough information to make their faith valid until that point. They then turned around and baptized the crowd on profession of faith because Jesus instructed them to do so.
Paedo: if the credos are right then the disciples themselves should have been baptized sooner, since Nathan was a genuine professing believer since John 1:49-50. He wasn’t baptized because baptism pictures the objective work of Christ, and that wasn’t revealed until chapter 3. As soon as the discourse with Nicodemus reveals Jesus to be the center of the Old Testament, the one who’d be lifted up to give healing and salvation to those who looked on in faith, He takes His disciples to the river and baptizes them.
Verdict: Paedo wins a small victory, by a narrow margin. The credo might instead say Jesus was giving a baptism for ministry readiness (like how Levites were commissioned at age 30), or His was a baptism of repentance. Sure it’s a little strange to say that the Lords baptism was the same as Johns, or that baptism is a sign of commission, but it works after a fashion. Nonetheless, the paedo understanding is a slightly better fit.

Let’s step back and weigh how each side has done so far. The credo answers have been good, and there’s nothing to indicate any kind of systemic failure in them, while the paedo answers have also been good and have consistently provided a valid working framework for understanding the Scriptures. My hope in doing this was that one side would prove to be a clear winner, but so far it’s not panned out that way.

While the paedo system is fitting the data slightly better, there’s really nothing to cause me to give up being a credo-baptist, even though the ontological argument for paedo baptism is still bothering me (as it was the thing that drove me to do this work in the first place). But we’re not done yet. Let’s now turn to what seems to be the foundational issue: the presence or absence of a discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.




The Historic Case For Paedo-Baptism from Various Sources

In the previous post I made the case that there was no coming back from the Synod of Carthage for the credo-baptist advocate, since the evidence against it is simply insurmountable. And yet, if that wasn't enough, there's further evidence that infant baptism was indeed the Apostolic practice.

Hyppolytus, writing in 215AD said, "First you should baptize the little ones...for those who cannot speak, their parents should speak."

Origen, who wrote about 248AD said, "In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants." (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3, and another in Leviticus 14). He also said, "The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9) 

Chrysostom who lived from 349-407, said, "Our circumcision, I mean the grace of baptism, gives cure without pain and procures to us a thousand benefits, and fills us with the grace of the Spirit; and has no determinate time, as that had; but one that is in the very beginning of his age, or one that is in the middle of it, or one that is in his old age, may receive this circumcision made without hands; in which there is no trouble to be undergone but to throw off the load of sins, and to receive pardon for all past offenses.” (Homily 40 in Genesis)

Augustine, in debating with Pelagius, pointed out that a denial of original sin meant a denial of infant baptism, since what other sin is being remitted in the infant? Here Augustine cleverly attempts to skewer Pelagius on denying the well-accepted doctrine infant baptism and make him look bad. But Pelagius answers, "Men slander me as if I denied the sacrament of baptism to infants. I never heard of any, not even the most impious heretic who denied baptism to infants."

For both of them not to have even heard of anyone who disagreed with paedo-baptism is telling. Not as telling as the council of Carthage mind you, but telling. And when you put these quotes together with the others (even those I haven't selected) it becomes pretty clear that there was no dispute in this matter, and that the early church baptized infants because they got the doctrine from the Apostles.  

So now, having gathered up the evidence, it’s time for me to ascend the podium and hand out the awards.


Next: Evaluating the Debate


Return to the Index

Paedo-Baptism: The Mono-Covenantal Argument

The previous post made the case that because infants were given signs in every covenant, infants should be given the covenant sign of Christ’s righteousness of baptism today. Covenant signs by their nature are objective revelations of Christ, not subjective pronouncements made by the individual. That argument parallels the Inductive Argument for credo-baptism because it looks at the data and draws a conclusion from it, except that it takes a wider view and makes the opposite conclusion.

The Mono-Covenantal argument for paedo-baptism posits that the sign of the Covenant of Grace was given as circumcision to infants, and that since circumcision is replaced by baptism we should give baptism to infants. This is by far the most common argument for paedo-baptism out there, and it parallels the credo-baptist Dispensationalist Argument in seeking to put together a wider understanding of redemptive history.

It might be more accurate to say that this is the opposite of dispensationalism however, because where dispensationalism sees a series of divisions the Mono-Covenantal argument sees a unity. And for good reason too—the saints in the Old Testament were saved exactly like we are: Christ's blood covers their sins, His righteousness is imputed to them, and they stand on works not their own. There is, as the Scriptures say, one dispensation for the fullness of time, and through it God is gathering all things under Christ (Eph 1:10). There is one people, one body, one Spirit, one cornerstone (Eph 2:14-20, 4:4-6). There is one singular plan that was put into motion by God from eternity past for the saving of souls regardless of gender, ethnicity, or ability, and that plan is Christ.

The strength of the Mono-Covenantal Argument rests on the premise that the New Testament is the outworking of the covenant with Abraham, not the giving of the law at Sinai. Abraham came first in redemptive history (which means both that he has the preeminence and that the subsequent covenant of Sinai cannot disannul God’s promise to him Gal 3:17). The law did not reduce or supplant the Abrahamic covenant, it added to it by showing men they’re trapped in sin and need the promised savior (Gal 3:22). Those who attempt to twist the law into making themselves righteous have forfeited the grace of Christ, which was the promise of Abraham (Gal 5:4). Therefore the sign of circumcision which was given after Abraham received the good news of Christ was pointing to this singular plan of salvation by Grace. In the form of a syllogism the argument goes like this:

P1: God required believers to give the sign of the Covenant of Grace to their infants (Gen 17:10).
P2: Baptism is the sign of the Covenant of Grace for believers today (Col 2:11-12).
C: God requires believers to baptize their children.

Premise one needs the least defense since Genesis 17 explicitly states that circumcision is to be given to infants of believers. The Old Testament is also explicit that circumcision was not merely a physical marker, but was designed to point to a greater spiritual reality since it was required for fellowship with God (Jer 4:4), symbolized regeneration (Deut 10:16), was to be followed by inward circumcision, and indicated to the Jews that they had to be circumcised in heart (Jer 9:25). It was the sign of Christ’s righteousness and work (Rom 4:11), and was appropriately bloody, for it pointed to a messiah who would pour out His blood to save us from our sins.

Premise two is more likely to be disputed by a credo-baptist, and in two ways.
The first line of attack is to say that it’s actually the Holy Spirit who’s the sign of the New Covenant, and not a physical element like water. In this view baptism isn’t a sacrament that points to the larger reality but an act of obedience that is required for holiness. But that’s the argument from the Churches of Christ—not the Baptist—and it’s not in scope here. So while it is true that the Holy Spirit seals us and marks us as His until the day of redemption, it is not the case that this cancels out the command Jesus gave us in the great commission to baptize as we make disciples.

The second line of attack says that baptism isn’t equivalent to circumcision, and that infants therefore shouldn’t be baptized. But baptism is the sign of the righteousness and the work of Christ, and it points to the one who washes away our sins, just as circumcision points to the one who was cut off for us. They’re doing the same thing, indicating the same status; as the Scripture says, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith” (Col 2:11-12a).

Abraham received the same gospel of Christ we do (Gal 3:8), and was commanded to apply the sign of it to infants. Since it's the same covenant (or plan), the same God, the same function of the sign, the same requirements for administering them (the only difference is that one sign was bloody and pointed forward, while the other a cleansing and pointed back) it stands to reason that we are to imitate Abraham and signify our covenant children's unique relationship to God.

To put this a bit more succinctly: the sign of Christ in the Old Testament is circumcision; the sign of Christ in the New is baptism. If God wanted us to apply the sign of salvation by grace to infants in the Old Testament, and we are still today under grace today, then it stands to reason that we should be applying the sign of salvation by grace to infants today.

Having made the case that both we and Abraham were under the covenant of grace, and that we are saved by grace, and that we are therefore under the same rules about who should be receiving the sign of grace, let’s move on to seeing any potential middle ground between the paedo and credo-baptist views.


Next: Credo & Paedo Baptism: a Common Middle Ground?


(Return to the index)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Orthodoxy Chapter 4 - The Ethics of Elf-land

Have you ever sat down for a moment and considered how thoroughly zany our world is? We live alongside striped, flying needle creature that vomit up delicious golden syrup when they’re not busy spreading flowers for us. We routinely annoy giant white mouth creatures into giving us beautiful shiny balls to wear around our necks. We think Geese are harmless, soft little creatures, in spite of the fact that they have teeth on their tongues. On their tongues, people. It often takes us hearing about a something like a flying fish to get us to pause and consider how strange it is that there are such things as fish at all. As Chesterton says, “ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange… Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.” That last line is especially true—the nose is such a strange thing that when considered in isolation, you can’t help wonder why you find the thing attractive on a person. But you do.

We don’t normally notice how odd the universe is because although we’re born into a world of wonder, we gradually become accustomed to it. We look for patterns, and once we find them we ignore them, lest we waste further brain power that could be better spent elsewhere. But fortunately we can be broken of this bad habit through the judicious use of fairy tales. Fairy tales give us fresh eyes, a perspective robust enough to understand what our world is really like. As Chesterton said, “this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful.”

Fairy tales have the ability to puncture through the mundane and bring the magical aspect of reality back into focus. They reorient our perspective and get us to think about the world as we ought to. “There is the chivalrous lesson of “Jack the Giant Killer’ that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride… There is the lesson of Cinderella which is the same as that of the Magnificat—Exlatavit Humiles… There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of Sleeping Beauty, which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep.” But don’t misunderstand—it’s not any particular story that matters as much as the way of looking at life in general. Fairy tales stimulate the imagination and keep us humble.

Now before I quote Chesterton further, let me stop and explain again why fairy tales matter so much; let me remind you of the fact that Chesterton just spent the last two chapters making the case that fairy tales aren’t opposed to reason but are instead the antidote to the prison of reason. I think it’s right to take a detour here because we’re so conditioned to thinking that fairy tales are imaginative nonsense that we’ve progressed a long way down the wrong path without realizing it, and we need an oversized reminder to bring us back.

Remember that the skeptical, agnostic, rational man stands in contrast to the imaginative man. The rational man does not believe in anything behind our world; to him there is nothing outside of our universe animating it. “The materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought.” And the problem is that sooner or later he’s going to put his arms around his situation and it’s going to crush him. If there is only this closed system in the end, then he’s in jail, and no amount of “the universe is a big place!” can get him away from the fact that he is bottled up. “The cosmos went on forever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. The grandeur or infinity… added nothing to it. It was like telling a prisoner in the Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the country. The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human.

Remember too that imagination (dragging with it the antidote of humility) produces a very different result. It produces freedom, and wonder, and delight—but not at the cost of reason. For imagination isn’t opposed to reason, but rather imagination teaches us the true value of reason by guarding it and keeping it from growing out of control. We know this because our imaginative fairy tales are chocked full of reason. In every magical world two and two always equal four, and try as you might you cannot imagine a world constructed differently. Shapes, numbers, and reason are things which must be regardless of the world, but the remaining details are not fixed. Reason dictates that “If Jack is the son of a miller, then a miller is the father of Jack.” and you can't argue with it. But imagination points out that there may be a world with no miller, or no Jack.

We can’t conceive of a world without the necessities of reason, but we can conceive of a world being different from our own. “If the apple hit Newton’s nose, Newton’s nose hit the apple. That is a true necessity: because we cannot conceive the one occurring without the other. But we can quite well conceive the apple not falling on his nose; we can fancy it flying ardently through the air to hit some other nose, of which it had a more definite dislike.
In our world there’s a force accelerating things toward the earth at 9.8m/s^2. That’s the way things happen here—but who’s to say it must be like that everywhere? Why couldn’t Earths core have been less dense and the apple have fallen slower? And if you really get down to it, why is an apple an inert edible piece of fruit and not a kind of flying, living ball with a grumpy disposition? Chesterton is trying to impress upon us the magnificent strangeness of this place. Why do eggs turn into birds? Why does our solar system spin through the cosmos in a helical shape like an electro-magnetic wave? “The only words that ever satisfied me as describing nature are the terms used in the fairy books, “charm,” “spell,” “enchantment.” They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery.” It’s not the scientist who thinks fairy tales are nonsense who is rational, it’s the one who wonders at our existence. And fairy tales are helpful for restoring this wonder to where it belongs.

Because wonder is the thing which dies as we grow acclimated to our world, and is a thing most necessary to get back. “This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this… when we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door…” God got here first, all fairy tales do is make us remember how we saw the world before we stopped thinking about things. “[Fairy tales] say that apples were gold only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found out they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”

That last sentence perfectly sums up our plight, doesn’t it? That’s really the sad fact that as fallen human beings have become largely impervious to joy. When we are children we are young and full of life, and by degrees we begin to die and forget. Our imaginations shrivel as we become used to this world, no longer remembering what this place is truly like, until for a brief moment we’re touched by an impressive story, or a movie, or a piece of art, or a symphony, and we remember for that one beautiful and sad spell that we are no longer children, but that we are dying.

So the world is strange and delightful, but what’s more, it’s also conditional. Everything in it depends on doing or not doing something; everything can be gained or lost. And where else do we find this property of fate? In fairy tales. In fairy tales happiness is always based on conditions. “All virtue is in an ‘if’. The note of the fairy utterance is, ‘you may live in a palace of gold and sapphire if you do not say the word ‘cow.’ Or ‘you may live happily with the king’s daughter if you do not show her an onion.’ The vision always hangs on a veto… in the fairy tale incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.”


There’s an if in a fairy tale that we don’t think strange at all, no matter how stupid the if is. Why should we? But yet when God gives us an if in the real world we go berserk and trumpet how awful it is, how cruel and unjust and unrighteous the whole notion is. Laws!? Rules?! How dare He tell us what to do! But really, it’s His story, and therefore He gets to set whatever rules He wants without being challenged on them. “If the miller’s third son said to the fairy, ‘Explain why I must not stand on my head in the fairy palace,’ the other might fairly reply, ‘Well if it comes to that, explain the fairy palace.’” You may try to complain to God about your lot in life, but He may just as quickly turn the tables on you and ask how you’re able to think and talk to Him in the first place. As Chesterton says, “it seemed to me that existence was itself so very eccentric a legacy that I could not complain of not understanding the vision they limited.” For you can’t murmur against God without first acknowledging there is a God. And once you’ve admitted He’s God, you realize it makes no sense to complain about how unhappy you’ve made yourself to an all power, all knowing being who created you to enjoy Him. To open the door to imagination is to open it enough for humility as well, for you can’t get the one without the other.

Having convincingly made that the observation that our world looks suspiciously like a fairy tale, Chesterton then goes on to demolish the materialist notion that there is nothing behind our world holding it up, moment to moment. “First, I found the whole modern world talking scientific fatalism; saying that everything is as it must always have been, being unfolded without fault from the beginning.” 

We suppose that the universe is made up of fixed and impersonal laws, things like the charge of an electron, or the force of gravity which mean no matter how many times we drop an object, it falls to the earth. But does it stand to reason that because an object falls over and over again it is compelled to fall by a fixed law of nature to do so? No. Never. A thousand times no. In these natural patterns we do not see the operation of some dead and lifeless law, but the moving hand of an active God. Behind the “law” of gravity stands a God who moment to moment wills the “law” to come to pass. As Chesterton says (and here I’ll just quote him for a bit),
The repetition of nature seemed sometimes to be an excited repetition, like that of any angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again. The grass seemed signaling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood. The sun would make me see him if he rose a thousand times. The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation, and I began to see an idea. All the towering materialisms which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance… but variation in human affairs is generally brought into not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies is movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into a bus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Isglington as regularly as the Thames goes to the Sheerness…
The sun rises because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically though excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say ‘Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is… it is possible God says every morning, ‘Do it again!’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again!’ to the moon… it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them… The repetition in Nature may not be a recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.” Well then does Chesterton conclude of God, “He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

There are patterns in our world not because our world is stone dead, but because moment to moment God by His providence and decisions is making life rush into them. Patterns repeat in our world because they are alive with the gigantic joy of their creator God who made a cosmic fairy tale and is insistent on telling His story in an inescapable way over and over again, not because we are an accidental conglomeration of dead, fixed, and impersonal forces.

So our world is a fairy tale that we’ve only grown accustomed to and forgotten how strange it is, and through smaller, simpler fairy tales (the kind we tell to our children) we’re remember to recognize this fact. We men have forgotten to be humble, but by becoming like little children we are able to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The take-aways of this truth are thus:

  1. If life is a gigantic fairy tale then godless naturalism is a dead end. “The world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick with a natural explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanation I have heard. The thing is magic, true or false.”
  2. If life is a gigantic fairy tale then there is someone telling the tale. “Magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have someone to mean it.
  3. That we are personal beings must mean we had a personal creator. “I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were WILFUL. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will. In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician… some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person.
  4. If God is telling us a story then we should, like children, accept Him reading it to us. We ought to be thankful for the humongous variety of pleasures and things to enjoy in the world. “The proper form of thanks is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. We owed, also, an obedience to whatever made us.” Or in a more brilliant phrasing, “One might pay for extraordinary joy with ordinary morals. Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.”
And all this Chesterton realized even before confessing the truth of Christianity, thus proving again that God’s fingerprint is stamped indelibly on conscience and nature.

What then can I say in response to this? Not only have I done a supremely poor job of summarizing this chapter, but I feel I have done violence to the very concept by even mentioning it. For it is a marvelous, life changing chapter. Read it again if you don’t believe me. Read it again even if you do. This chapter is absolutely wonderful and self-evidently correct. Accepting the truth of it is like having a dislocated shoulder set into place. And yet, even so I can’t help but feel that Chesterton has barely scratched the surface of how important this idea is, the clarity of his words notwithstanding. Ours is a wild and beautiful world, filled with all sorts of silly and stupid things. God said to Himself, “Let’s make a mammal that flies, but is also blind.”
“Let’s make a giant flower that blooms once a century, and when it does it smells like a corpse.”
“I know we gave creatures tongues to taste with and eyes to see with, but let’s just make this pit vipers see with its tongue for the fun of it.”
“Let’s make a duck billed platypus.” 

And above and beyond all this His animating statement was, “Let’s make the world do the same thing over and over again so there’s no way an obstinate mankind can refuse to accept My glory.” 






Next: Chapter 5 - The Flag of the World

Orthodoxy Chapter 3 - The Suicide of Thought


Before Chesterton can begin discussing the cure to modern reasoning he needs to first address why it needs curing in the first place. In this chapter he spends time laying out the case as to why our forerunners who thought in terms of fairy tales and imagination didn’t have the same problems we do, and why if we go on thinking in this “scientific” way we’ll be trapped in a self-imposed mental prison of madness forever.

The chapter is a bit long and narrow, and for that reason I’m going to skip the specifics he brings up about H.G. Wells, Shaw, Nietzsche, Renan, Tolstoy, John Davidson, or Tennyson, abstract everything to the next higher level, and be done with it. It’s going to be the difference between watching the play Oedipus Rex and hearing a lecture about it, because any attempt to translate something into a different medium immediately fails. The play deals with the idea that we are fallen and irrevocably broken (but that there’s value in perceiving this) though narrative, and a lecture on the same topic simply doesn't do the original justice. Unfortunately it’ll be the same way here. If I sound crude it’s because I’m not nearly as a good a writer as Chesterton, and if I sound modern that because I’m writing a hundred years later and picking up on where we’ve gone since then. But you’re reading his chapter too, so you’re not missing anything by me doing this.


Chesterton’s first point (and one that bears repeating) is that virtues uncoupled from a Christian framework go to seed and become corrupted. Our danger is not from being brought down from our vices as much as being swallowed by misplaced virtue. Pity gone to seed grows into indolence. Search for truth alone gives you cruelty. Intellectual humility run amok gets you intellectual suicide. “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place... A man was meant to be doubtful about himself but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed… the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether… we are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe the multiplication table.” That thought forms the basis of the chapter, so I’ll say it again for effect: left to our own impulses and reasoning we take what is normally a good thing and commit intellectual suicide with it.

It was therefore to safeguard our minds that God gave us the rules of religion. He stamped His authority on the commandments and said, “By these thou shalt live,” because apart from boundaries our fallen thirst for power ruins us. We are created in the image of The Creator and so we desire to create, but because we are fallen and desire to flee from Him, our creations are designed to be safe places to flee to. Our finite reason and imagination must necessarily make a world smaller than the real one, and thus, we make jails for ourselves. Our reason first imprisons and then destroys us.

Consider the hypothesis of evolution. “Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself… it is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism.” Evolution, the scientist says, selects traits for survivability for its creatures. But in selecting for success evolution does not select for truth, for truth is an outcome irrelevant to survival. To accept that we are the product of accidental and random events means we should never have figured out the truth of evolution to begin with. Or as Chesterton says, “You must sooner or later ask yourself the question, ‘Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape.” If we really believed in evolution, the epistemological ground would fall out from under us and we’d immediately be left with nothing to believe in. It’s the old philosophy of materialism and determinism in another package. If predetermined out of control atomic collisions make up everything—including our thoughts—then nothing matters or makes sense, not even these words. A fish doesn't know he's wet, although he's surrounded by water, the thought of 'wet' never occurs to him.

What about moral relativism, will that work? No. The instant you throw history under the bus in a progressive fit of virtue signaling you’ve given the game away. When you say those evil savages of yesteryear have nothing to teach to us today because they are evil and we are good, you fall into Nietzche’s trap. “Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil.” The problem? “If it were so, we could not now talk of surpassing or even falling short of them.” If the previous generation of men were afflicted with a condition that resulted in them not being able to tell the difference between good or evil, then why are we, their direct descendants, not afflicted with this same condition? If they couldn’t think straight, then how are we any different? How are we exempt from having our judgements invalidated by the same standard? If all human judgment is unreliable, then our own judgment is also unreliable. “The theory of a complete change of standards in human history does not merely deprive us of the pleasure of honoring our fathers; it deprives us of the more modern and aristocratic pleasure of despising them.” Relativism amounts to a policy of continual change, adopted merely for the sake of change, with no particular direction to change in to. It seeks that which is novel and exciting, but in end there is nothing more than monotonous, for there is nothing as monotonous as constant, unending change.

What about foregoing any rational thinking altogether and simply living for the moment? Can we just table figuring out an overarching rational principle against God and live in a pragmatic, do-what-works world of pleasure? Can't we simply close our eyes, pretend He doesn't exist, and banish the idea of God? No again. “One of those necessities is precisely a belief in objective truth. The pragmatist tells a man to think what he must think and never mind the absolute. But precisely one of the things that he must think is the absolute.”  Avoiding dealing with absolute truths is self-defeating, for the only way to pull it off is to declare that there is no absolute truth, except the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. God has so made our world that there's no escaping the need for absolute truth, for He is the Truth, and there's no universe without Him.

"Well okay," reasons fallen man, "if constructing a barricade against God using reason is no good, then what about constructing it with something else? Can we build a defense based on our wills instead? Can we use that marvelous organ that enables us to drive toward our desires?" As Chesterton says, “At the beginning of this preliminary sketch I said that our mental ruin has been wrought by wild reason… now one school of thinkers has seen this… they see that reason destroys; but will, they say, creates. The ultimate authority they say, is in the will, not in reason. The supreme point is not why a man demands a thing, but the fact that he does demand it.” But a moment’s thought shows that this won’t work either. “Pure praise of volition ends in the same break up and blank as the mere pursuit of logic. Exactly as complete free thought involves the doubting of thought itself, so the acceptation of mere willing really paralyzes the will… to admire mere choice is to refuse to choose.

Why won’t will work as a building block? Because there’s really not much to the will in the final analysis, that’s why. Your will only helps you get what you desire—nothing more. It’s that invisible quality which says, “this, and not that.” “Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation… when you choose anything you reject everything else. …When you marry one woman you give up all the others. … If you draw a giraffe you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find you are not free to draw a giraffe… the moment you step into the world of facts you step into a world of limits… if a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.” There is nothing in the will with which to construct with, the will only chooses from what it sees. And so by itself it does nothing to divert the universe from pressing in on us. If we turn our minds off and rely on will alone we allow God’s universe to supply us with facts, but for goodness sake, the whole point of rational insanity was to keep God’s universe out, not to let it in! If we switch to using will (which accepts God’s reality as a fundamental premise) then all we’ve done is taken a step backwards. Because if we accept God’s reality then we’ve come dangerously close to accepting the truth that our rebellion against Him merits punishment, and it’s this truth that we’re desperate to get away from and forget about to begin with.

So no matter what tool we try and use, there’s no escape of the mental prison for sinners, no evading the trap God has laid for us. All roads lead to Rome. All human philosophies set us “on the road to the emptiness of the asylum.” The second you walk away from God He takes away the light you are using to walk with. Trying to flee from Him with reason and you flee from reason. Either we must flee to God and accept His heaven or we will have hell.
Oh the depth of the riches, the wisdom of God! How true is His warning, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” How utterly delightful His words. And this Chesterton regards as the unpleasant groundwork of his book. In the next chapter he is finally able to talk about what he wants to.




Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Pushback Part I

If you've been following this series you may have noticed my two Pastors commenting on my work.  Phil it might help those of us who fi...