Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, A Review, Part III

In the first post I remarked on Denault’s unfair treatment of Presbyterianism, in the second post I stated his reasons for preferring Baptist theology, and in this third and final installment Im going to look at why the arguments he puts forward don’t stand up to close scrutiny.

Answering the Foundation

The idea that Presbyterians believe in one covenant spanning two administrations is both a true and a fair assertion. Likewise, the idea that the Baptist believes in a single covenant led up to by a promise is another fair assessment. Unfortunately, the Baptist model simply doesn’t fit the olive tree imagery Paul uses in Romans 11. Consider: in the analogy the tree doesn't begin to exist in the new covenant era. Neither is there an old tree being discarded. The Baptist model is instead similar to how scaffolding is used while a building is under construction, and taken down once it's completed.
On the other hand,
t
he Presbyterian concept of one substance/two administration fits this idea of a single tree perfectly. And that’s enough to disqualify the Baptist model


Having said that, I think the disagreement between the Baptist and the Presbyterian is even more fundamental than when the covenant of grace goes into effect. It seems to me that the problem really starts at the word covenant itself, since each group means something different by it. Just as baptism means “the divinely appointed way of professing faith to the assembly” to the Baptist, and “the sign and seal of God’s promise to us,” to the Presbyterian, the word covenant is not monolithic. Baptists understand it to mean more or less salvation, whereas the Reformed understand it to mean a pledge of fidelity which precedes a deeper relationship with God. Thus, when they say the new covenant they mean that God is drawing men toward Himself through the saving work of His Son, while the Baptists means God has fully and totally saved a man. 
[As a side note: this tends to make Baptists churches more focused on conversion and evangelism, because salvation is the main point of the text. Presbyterian churches tend to be focus on maturing people, growth, and training in righteousness, because growing up in godliness is the central pillar of their understanding. To the Baptist the Presbyterian looks like a tired old person; to the Presbyterian the Baptist looks like a baby.]
The other problem with Baptist idea of promise in the Old Testament and salvation in the New Testament is that the people who lived after Abraham and before Christ didn’t receive the promise of salvation, they received salvation itself. They weren’t merely some earthly kingdom, they were the church, and they didn’t receive a second class revelation, they received the genuine article itself. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the mountain after their death, and Abraham himself received the promise of eternal life.

Now none of this may be enough to a Baptist to switch viewpoints, I’ll grant. But there is more.
 

Answering The Structure

The idea that the New Covenant is entirely and totally new is the foundation on which Baptist theology rests. Take it away and the thing crumbles; establish it and nothing can shake it. It’s the hinge on which the door turns, the central cog in the machine. And unfortunately, the New Covenant isn’t as new as the Baptist needs it to be.
 

Why not? Firstly because there are two words in the Greek for new, neos which indicates a totally unique innovation, and kainos, which is like a refresh of an existing thing. When you go to Walmart and buy a new shirt, that’s kainos. When the shirt was first invented, that’s neos. For Denault to be right the Bible would need to consistently use the word neos when speaking of the new covenant. Unfortunately the word used most often is kainos, see 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Hebrews 8:8, 13; 9:15. In fact, the only place neos is used is in Heb 12:24, where it speaks of the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, meaning the effectual nature of the blood is unique to the new covenant, but the rest isn’t. And since the Scriptures use the word new to speak of something which is new of a kind but not totally original, there’s really no ground to understand the new covenant in the Baptist sense.

The second problem with over-stressing the uniqueness of the new covenant is that there’s a greater overlap between the new covenant and the previous covenants than there is between the new covenant and salvation. That’s very bad, because it gives no room for the Baptist scheme to find separation enough to make it's point. Therefore, to make the Baptist view work properly, a bird’s eye view of the others covenants must be taken, and the important details common to each one glossed over. Above all the notion that each covenant build on the last and represents an unfolding single continuous revelation about Christ must be rejected completely, because such an admission amounts to the Presbyterian scheme.
If you start digging into what makes up a covenant you’re likely to see the new doesn’t seem so different after all. There’s a family component, a headship element, the perpetuation of the promises, a sign and seal given to those in the covenant by the superior. There’s a sacrifice, a meal, an element of coming together, none of which are unique to the new covenant. In fact the only thing that really makes the new covenant different from the previous ones is that it’s unbreakable. Which leads me to my last point: resting the whole of Baptist theology on the indestructibility of the new covenant is resting on a broken reed.

Why? Because on what basis does the invincibility of the covenant of grace in the New Testament justify abolishing its presence in the Old Testament? Yes, the new covenant is new in that it reveals the full mechanism of salvation, but that doesn’t mean there’s neither evidence nor mechanism of salvation in the Old Testament. Justification by faith in the work of Christ has been around since Abraham's time (see Romans 4). Likewise, contrary to what Denault implies, regeneration isn’t exclusive to the new covenant. If it were then the saints in the Old Testament were both saved and unregenerate. Indestructibility is a key attribute of the new covenant, but it doesn't mean that the new covenant is equivalent to election.

Perhaps I’m being uncharitable you say. Perhaps all Denault is really arguing is that the invincibility of the covenant calls for a special uniqueness not seen before in the Scriptures. But alas, that’s not what he’s driving at, because any old Presbyterian would simply shrug and agree with that. What he’s doing is using the invincibility of the New Covenant to establish a completely unrelated property of stand-alone uniqueness. He’s arguing that because the new one won’t be broken
the other covenants weren’t a part of God's unfolding revelation about Himself.

The real mistake here lies in assuming the New Covenant is about us, rather than a revelation of Christ. I just finished writing a book on this very point so I don’t want to get into it here, (not to mention this review is long enough already) but suffice to say I believe the new covenant is unbreakable because Christ Himself has become man, kept the requirements of the law on our behalf, and died to pay for our sins, not because we are perfectly faithful and guaranteed not to break it. Its invincibility has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him. If you want to know more why I think that makes Baptist theology untenable, then you’ll have to just buy the book and read for yourself.

So I don’t see the grounds isolating the new covenant in order to make it into something it's not.
 

Regarding Abraham

Get the new covenant right (or wrong) and the rest of the covenants come free. But because both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants fall out naturally from it, I'll briefly state why the Presbyterian understanding of them is superior to the Baptist one.
“Since Abraham’s physical posterity existed by virtue of the covenant of circumcision (the old covenant), when the goal of the covenant was accomplished… the covenant made with Abraham’s natural descendents came to an end. On what basis can one maintain a genealogical succession once the Old Covenant was over?” (Loc 2051).
“On what basis can one maintain a genealogical succession” is a rhetorical question, but I’m going to answer it anyway. On what basis? On the basis that humans are organically related to each other under Adam. If we work through the idea that we men spread into a large family, like a single tree putting out leaves, then the genealogical cessation argument against child baptism collapses.
And as Dabney argues, if the promise of Abraham was to Christ that all the nations of the world will be blessed in Him, then it can’t be fulfilled once He’s born because all nations are not blessed in Him at that point. That doesn’t happen until the Gentiles join the church mid way through the book of Acts.
 

Regarding Moses

Is the promise at Sinai conditional or unconditional? Clearly it’s not unconditional. But then how can this match up with the covenant of grace in the New Testament being unconditional?
Simple, it's a part of the covenant of grace
the part designed to humble men (Rom 3:20). The purpose of Sinai was to be broken, so as to make sin known (Rom 7:7), so that sin would be seen as sin, and so that salvation by grace through faith could be firmly established (Rom 3:31). As I've said elsewhere, from Abraham we learn Christ is all that is necessary for salvation, from Sinai we learn salvation by Christ is absolutely necessary. Other more able theologians have hit this particular point home better than I, so I’m going to dismiss the Baptist idea here with a wave of my hand now and simply say checkmate in 4. Not to sound like a broken record, but if you want to have more of my thoughts on the interplay between these two covenants you can go grab my book.

In Sum

Baptist theology is like a well made drinking glass. It'll hold you up if you stand on it and treat it gently, but if you let it drop it will shatter.
Grant the premise that the new covenant is equivalent to salvation and it will hold you up just fine. Challenge that premise and it crumbles.
Which is why I remain convinced Reformed theology is the more Biblical of the two. It alone doesn't collapse when you challenge it, and it alone doesn't require you to assume it's premises.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, A Review, Part II

In part one we dealt with the major problem that Denault comes across as being unwilling to treat Reformed theology charitably. Here in part two we’ll look at the arguments he advances for Baptist theology.

Overall, A Success

Denault's primary goal seemed to be to demonstrate that the Baptist paradigm is a legitimate branch of the Reformation with a long and honorable history. He works pretty hard to show the thinking behind the 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith (specifically section 7.3) and why it diverges from the Westminster confession which it borrows so heavily from. In this I think he does a fine job, and I have no problem seeing Baptist theology as a real part of the federalist family. (For what it's worth, I may be biased considering I was a reformed Baptist until not very long ago).

His secondary goal was to not just get people to see the historic Baptist position, but to agree with it. In this I think Denault only does an okay job, as he fails to do justice to a position that's actually stronger than he communicates. Nevertheless here is how he does it.


Laying the Foundation

The first 40% of TDOBCT is spent establishing the difference between the Reformed and the Baptist approach to understanding the covenants in Scripture. Presbyterianism is one covenant under two administrations with the covenant going into effect immediately, while the Baptist theology is one covenant under one administration with the promise of the covenant being before Christ and the thing taking effect after Christ (loc 939). In framing the discussion this way he sets the stage over which the whole battle is to be fought, for if men received the covenant of grace before Christ then the pattern of bringing children into the new covenant holds, because the New Testament is more revelation, not a different epoch in history.

If on the other hand those who lived during the OT times received the promise of the covenant but not the covenant itself, then the children may or may not be included in the new era. Given  that only true believers are brought into the new covenant, the answer is probably not, since infants cannot believe. (But here again the Baptist presupposition and previous commitment to faith and adult obedience comes into play. Stressing the necessity of faith naturally which excludes infants; stressing grace naturally includes them.)


Building the Structure

The remaining 33% of the book plays out directly from this divide, and because Denault takes the points topically, he obscures the foundation of the Baptist position. I don’t think that’s his intention mind you, merely a side effect of presenting the book the way he did, so to help ameliorate this I’m going to re-arrange his thoughts and cram all the related arguments together.
  1. The capstone for Baptist theology is the New Covenant (as presented in Chapter 4). Because it’s called a new covenant, Denault argues, it must be an entirely separate and unique event in redemptive history, a fresh innovation. The word new indicates a new essence, not merely a new form. That means a new administration is out of the question, as is a new quality, as is a new quantity, clarity, freedom, mode, circumstances, duration, glory as the Presbyterians argue. None of these are good enough. The new covenant must be totally and entirely new in every respect. Stated more succinctly:
    “The New Covenant was radically new since no other formal covenant before it was unconditional” (loc 2268).
    The fact that the scripture speaks of the New Covenant as never being broken is sufficient evidence to establish this point.

    Imagine a bunch of foam blocks lying in a pile between two bins if you will. One bin is labeled “New Testament”, and the other, “Old Testament.” Each block represents a quality or aspect of the covenant—one might be grace, another love, and so on—and it’s our job to sort them into an appropriate bin. Denault is saying the proper way to distribute them is to put all of them into the new and to leave the old empty. Now this is of course my analogy, not his, and for all I know he may not even endorse it, but I think it's helpful to give a mental map of how he sorts it all out.
  2. Therefore, since all of these great things belong exclusively to the New Testament, the covenants in the Old Testament are much less than the Presbyterians make them out to be. The Abrahamic Covenant was a fleshly and physical covenant, a covenant given to preserve the physical lineage of Christ. (You can see how the dispensationalist error is an offshoot of true Baptist theology.
  3. The Mosaic covenant was designed to get men to see their need of the new Covenant. Therefore until the New Covenant came along things like regeneration and forgiveness of sins aren't possible (loc 2344).

Other Sundry Problems for Presbyteriansim

If the covenant of grace is the same as the old covenant (as the Presbyterians argue) then when the old is brought to an end (as Hebrews says) the covenant of grace must also come to an end. But since the covenant of grace doesn’t come to an end, it cannot be the case that a single covenant spans both redemptive eras.

Along with this comes the follow on argument: 

“the paedobaptists, in order to affirm that the covenant of grace contained people who were saved and people who were lost, had to separate the covenant from salvation…thus, one could not say that Christ had saved his church. According to this conception, Christ would have only saved part of His church”  (loc 1452).
Denault's argument is that the paedobaptist has separated the New Covenant from salvation, and has thus denied its fundamental nature. There’s also a side argument here that since Jesus would have to die for the non-elect to give benefits to the people in the covenant (because some people in the Covenant of Grace are not elect), Baptist theology is the only logically coherent theology.

Given (2) above, it must be the case that the Abrahamic covenant came to an end when Jesus was born. 
“Since Abraham’s physical posterity existed by virtue of the covenant of circumcision (the old covenant), when the goal of the covenant was accomplished… the covenant made with Abraham’s natural descendents came to an end. On what basis can one maintain a genealogical succession once the Old Covenant was over?” (Loc 2051). 
To assert, as the Presbyterias do, that the genealogical inclusion principle carries over into the New covenant era is to assert the Abrahamic covenant is in effect today. Which, considering it was designed to produce Christ, is absurd. Men like Petto separated the Abrahamic covenant from the mosaic, and because they liked the Abrahamic better, kept that sign (circumcision) and the practice of circumcising infants, which is why Presbyterians today have
 “An erroneous understanding of the Abrahamic covenant” (Loc 1802).
To this end, Galatians 4:22-31 is clear that God established two words with Abraham. The covenant was a physical, earthly, temporary covenant, resulting in the nation of Israel, and it was to recognize this that He gave the sign of circumcision. The other thing was the promise of the eternal salvific covenant, but it was just that—a promise, not a covenant.
 

Given (3), the Presbyterian cannot have a right understanding of the Mosaic covenant either.
“If the Sinaitic Covenant was conditional and if its promises depend on the obedience of its members, this presented a problem for the one covenant of grace under two administrations paradigm. How could one maintain that Israel as under a covenant of grace all the while considering that the law of Moses was a covenant of works?” (Loc 1747). 
Because the law said “if you obey, then you will be blessed” and the new covenant says “I will bless” the two are not only different, but mutually exclusive. Therefore the new covenant must not be the same substance as the old.

I think that’ll about do it. Denault has more to say on the matter—but not too much more—as this is a pretty fair summarizing. Once you accept the idea that the new covenant is the first of its kind, or is more or less synonymous with salvation the rest falls out naturally. But is this the right way to understand things?

To part III we go

 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, A Review, Part I

Before resigning my membership at a Reformed Baptist church (in order to place it at a Presbyterian church), my pastor asked me to read Pascal Denault’s book, “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology” and wrestle with the arguments he brought to the table.
So I did.

He then asked my thoughts on it.
Here they are.
 

Full Disclosure

I am not a traditional Reformed theologian. I've arrived at my convictions via Scripture, not the confessions, and so I expect a book which attacks older forms of federal theology not to threaten me. Because of that, much that interests someone else is totally uninteresting to me. I don’t see the need to man the ramparts against someone who attacks the probationary period in the covenant of works. Let 'em have it. The Mosaic covenant as a republication of the covenant of works? Denault would be doing everyone a favor to knock that down. If he absolutely tears down the whole Presbyterian construction from one end to the other and sits atop the rubble victorious, I therefore expect to still not be caught in the blast zone given my starting point.
 

Unlike a normal book review, I’ll be skipping the weird and interesting things which draw attention of normal readers, such as the half dozen parts where Denault claims Owen was an unwitting Baptist (besides, it just comes off as hero worship manifesting itself as wishful thinking). I'm also going to skip the obligatory evaluations of the book writing. I'll just say I think Denault is a good writer, that his ideas are clear and serviceable, that his citation of the older thinkers is careful, and that he’s quoted his sources at length.
So now that you’re aware of my implicit biases and where this is going, let’s get to it.
 

Uncharitable Much?

When Alice falls down the rabbit hole she commits an embarrassing blunder common to very young children, "I wonder if I shall fall fight through the earth! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards!
In assuming gravity is a vector that points downwards from England, like an arrow shot through a ball, Alice comes to the conclusion that people on the opposite side of the earth walk on their heads. Denault makes that same mistake. From his point of view it looks reasonable to say the Reformed are slaves to a system and have no biblical basis for their beliefs, but this only works if you don't consider the matter from their perspective. I've said similar disrespectful things in my younger days, to my shame, but at some point I had to own the fact that the vast majority of the greatest minds in Christendom have believed this baby baptizing stuff.
But even if that wasn't so, and Denault is right, and the Presbyterians are actually dumb, there’s still no need for him to be so uncharitable. We don’t need to run down the Arminians as being idol worshiping fools for not believing in predestination the way we do, for example. They reject our Calvinistic understanding because they cannot understand how it doesn't make God unjust, but even though we know this is how the Bible actually speaks of it we don't need to impute the worst possible motives to them. 


The other problem with accusing the Reformed of being slaves to a system is that nine times out of ten it’s the inferior who accuses the superior of being taken captive by a clunky, unbiblical, man-made set of beliefs. How many times did I hear this from my Church of Christ friends regarding Calvinism? This complaint is largely a short hand for "I don't understand your reasoning, therefore your reasoning is wrong." But in the words of Treebeard, “a Calvinist ought to know better!

Yet Denault doesn’t. He seems to sincerely think the Reformed hold their ideas on infant baptism simply because they’re dullards who can’t put two and two together—and I’m not exaggerating here. It’s wave after wave of,

"the paedobaptist approach not only did not use the New Testament to interpret the Old, but did the exact opposite" (Loc 1320).
And while I'm all for a good humorous dig, Denault seems to genuinely affirm this stuff. See for yourself:
“We believe that it was arbitrary on the part of the paedobaptists to link baptism not to the internal substance but to the external administration of the Covenant of Grace, since baptism symbolized union in the death and resurrection of Christ (the ultimate spiritual substance of the Covenant of Grace)”  (loc 1419).
Arbitrary mind you. It’s not because God assigned the sign and seal of faith to infants in the covenant of Grace in the Old Testament, or that He Himself established the external administration, or because covenants are family affairs and that's how every other covenant in the Bible has worked. It's not because Abraham was given saving knowledge of Christ and His mission, nor because the external/internal divide was His idea. Instead, baptism was assigned to infants because Presbyterians enjoying making their decisions by rolling the dice.
“The padeobaptist refused to separate the dualities of the Abrahamic covenant in order to preserve their model of the covenant of grace which integrated these dualities… Their system was self sufficient, but it could not harmonize itself naturally with the Biblical data, and, in particular, to the fact that there was not one, but two covenants in Abraham” (loc 1863, 1929). 
Or perhaps it’s the case that there is no duality in the Abrahamic covenant? Perhaps God instead made a single covenant with Abraham, and these two dimensions are organically related? Could it be instead that the same covenant is strengthened and expanded as history has progressed, being about Christ rather than a staccato issuance of semi-related covenants? Nope, none of that can be true. There are two covenants, one physical and earthly, the other spiritual and heavenly, and circumcision was assigned to the first. Even though Romans 4:11 says the opposite.
 

On Hebrews 10:29, 
“Grammatically this verse can be translated as Blake read it. Theologically however, this translation is impossible. How could someone who had been sanctified by the blood of Christ (the blood of the covenant) perish? Another translation is preferable, one that is grammatically and theologically true” (Loc 2313). 
Translation: Scripture cannot mean what it says, it must mean what I know to be true. This one is really deadly, and I know because I have to fight against that every time I open the Bible. It's pride and selfishness that causes someone to say that, nothing more. It's tempting to just dismiss what you think is false rather than tear down your old worldview, but you can't. Scripture is always right and you're not.
“No Presbyterian believed that the new Covenant was new” (loc 2235). 
I’ll just leave that one there to speak for itself.
“Presbyterian federalism was an artificial construction developed to justify an end: paedobaptism. We do not think that this laborious theology was the result of a rigorous and disinterested application of hermeneutical principles. We rather believe that it was the consequence of an age-old practice, which became the ultimate instrument of social uniformity in Christendom and which was inherited by the Reformed Church, namely, paedobaptism. Paedobaptism was the arrival point of Presbyterian federalism because it was its starting point” (Loc 2388). 
The Paedobaptists wanted paedobaptism, so they made sure to construct a system that featured it. They’ve dealt in bad faith or ignorance from the beginning and have gone on the same ever since.

Look dude, waving a magic wand and pretending Presbyterianism has no biblical basis for their practices doesn’t work. I get you want the Baptists to be the good guys in your story and the Reformed the bad guys, but you can’t do that. You just can’t. Romans 2:28; 4:11; 11:16-22; Col 2:11-12; Matt 22:29 each make a compelling reason for paedobaptism and you can’t pretend a giant swath of Christendom lay in the grip of ignorance and superstition for thousands of years. That's more than unfair, it’s positively unchristian.

Aside from this, the other problem is that Denault has appropriated the reasonable positions for Baptists, and made it to look like the Presbyterians wouldn’t agree. This happens often, but I’ll just give you one (at location 2041) where he says that Baptists believe Sinai was designed to preserve the lineage of Christ, to point typologically to Christ, and to make it clear that salvation can only be found in Christ. He then seizes the high ground by hinting that Presbyterians believe otherwise. It’s frustrating because that’s not how someone arguing from a superior position behaves, it's how someone hiding something behaves. As the Apostle Paul says “we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor 4:2).

The ironic thing is that Denault wrote this book because he got tired of Presbyterians just dismissing the rich heritage of Baptists and ignoring the actual arguments for their viewpoint. So what does he do? He treats them like they’d treated him. Put the rebel in charge of the government and he becomes the tyrant he fought to unseat.

For all this the book gets a “do not recommend” from me. Even though the kindle version is reasonably priced, don't waste your money. A man who cannot deal honestly or charitably with his fellow brother is not somebody you ought to listen to (see also: James White).

“But wait” you say,maybe it’s just Waltersobchakeit, you know? Just because he assumes the worst about Presbyterians doesn’t mean he’s wrong about their theology.”

Fair enough. Let’s begin the apologeia in earnest.
On to Part II

Reformed Paedo-Baptism Conversion Personal Testimony

I suppose I should conclude this series with a surprising anecdote that happened to me after giving up the fight for credo-baptism. I had expected that accepting the doctrine of infant baptism would be difficult, and that it would cause me much pain and suffering. But as it turns out, letting go was surprisingly easy. It was as if I was bracing to crash through a door and then at the moment of impact found it ajar. To explain that I had better back up a bit.

Roughly 200 years ago a Presbyterian minister by the name of Thomas Campbell became convinced that the regulative principle meant that paedo-baptism was wrong, and that baptism was reserved only those who profess faith. He shared his conclusions with his fellow Presbyterian ministers but they dismissed his concerns with, "That's not what the confessions say."

Campbell then decided that the confessions are unjustly constraining and don’t accurately represent Scripture, and that the people who are being raised on them are being taught to believe in a man-made system and not in the Bible itself. He throws out the confessions, breaks with his fellow Presbyterians, and declares that form now on the Bible is the only creed, confession, or rule for life, and that henceforth he would find other like-minded Christians to fellowship with. As it turns out, Barton W. Stone (a Baptist) was willing to join him in this unity movement, and the rest (as they say) is history. The Restoration movement was a group dedicated to leaving all suspect theological innovations behind and becoming like the early church.

This is an ideal reconstruction of course, seen through my childish eyes. As an adult I find it possible that Thomas wasn’t pursuing the truths of Scripture but was working with ulterior motives, perhaps even hiding his disagreement from the Doctrines of Grace under the banner of Christian liberty. Nonetheless, this was the portrait of faith I was raised on. The stories of heroic men who followed the teachings of Scripture fearlessly, even when it was unpopular or dangerous to do so, was drilled into me, and I was nurtured on the idea that we should pursue Scriptures with a pure and holy passion. “Follow the Bible at all costs O son of the Restoration, for that is your only sure guide” was reinforced with love by innumerable Sunday school teachers and pulpit preachers. So you can imagine their horror then when I came to the conclusion that "once saved always saved" is the Biblical position.

That was beyond the pale, and the Christian thing to do for me was to go into exile to avoid causing any further division in an already battered denomination. So we settled into attending the closest thing to our heritage where we could find theological agreement—the local Baptist church. I’d been somewhat close with the Baptists since my college days, and I was delighted to finally be a part of their happy energy. Although it was never an exact fit for us, we did well there.

Years later the Baptist church we were attending jumped sideways into Willow Creek Christianity and we left for another, stricter Baptist church with a policed confession so that that wouldn't happen again. It was at the second church that I continued to study until, quite by accident, I fell into paedo-baptism. And after assuring myself that this was the more biblical position, I resigned my membership there, being unwelcome because of how far of phase I was with the London Baptist Confession of Faith. (As a side note, because I've grown up in the Churches of Christ and seen up close how unity is only achieved through orthodoxy, I'm not only convinced they are right to demand my resignation but I love them much more for it. Unity is not achieved when we pretend creeds don’t matter, it happens when we cling as hard as we can to Scripture, argue, and hug at the end of the day as workers for the Lord. Baptists may be wrong on baptism (and by that I mean they're wrong) but they are fellow servants of Christ, and are pursuing Him as best they know how. They are working to keep out error in their church, and I appreciate that.)

While I was happy with Baptist theology I never felt like it quite fit right. That’s owing to my Church of Christ heritage no doubt. But once I agreed that the paedo-baptists were right I suddenly no longer felt like I needed to push away my upbringing nor be ashamed of it. The sorrow of leaving, the sour longing of not growing up evangelical, the sting of feeling like a man in exile, it was all gone in an instant. Why? I don’t know. But when I accepted Presbyterianism I somehow became able to let go of my grudge against Campbell for the destructive legacy he birthed that caused most of my friends to apostatize. Unlike when I was at the Baptist churches I now have a sense of coming home, of accepting who I am. I am the true child of the Restoration, the man Campbell set out to make. I am the fruit of his vision.

I think if he were to meet me he would be delighted to see his plan come to maturation just as he'd hoped, to see a man who lived his life by casting himself wholly upon the Bible. I also think he would promptly despair as well to see how I’ve embraced the Presbyterianism he fled. If this series hasn’t convinced you then I suspect you’re thinking something like, "You think it's Biblical to baptize babies and you still call yourself a son of the restoration? Have you gone completely mad?"

Hold up there. I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I used to think. And before you go any further let me ask you the question that plagued me the entire time I've been studying this issue: what if it's true? What if there really is a singular plan of salvation which God purposed in eternity past? Does it matter all that much if we call it the covenant of grace, or something else? What if God made a covenant with Adam at his creation, the gist of which was that he was not to eat the tree of knowledge? Does giving it a dumb name like Covenant of Works change the fact that the world fell when Adam ate the fruit? More to the point, what if those ancient creeds we rejected represent the most Biblical framework available? What if Campbell was substantially wrong and his point about being careful with creeds was only a minor one?

Please don't make the mistake of just writing me off as someone who's fallen into a simple and obvious error. My whole life I've been more or less totally immune to the Reformed viewpoint because I, like Campbell, saw the speculation in it. So while some of my friends fell into accepting an interpretive grid imposed on the text, that it wasn't a problem for me because I only accept what the Bible puts forward. It just so happened that one day I came face to face with the possibility that this framework was not only Biblical, but the most Biblical.

It sounds strange, I know. It caught me off guard, frankly. But in the final analysis I can only fold my hands and become what I am. I am a son of the Restoration. Therefore I am today a Presbyterian. All that we left, all that we fled from, for all this time. It was true. And in this there is the peace we left behind. As C.S. Lewis said, “a wrong sum can be put back right, but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on.”

So the story has a happy ending after many months of toil and misery. I put my head right and my heart followed. I suspect it would be the same way for you. I therefore close with the words of Martin Luther, "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen."



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Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Pushback Part I

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