Monday, March 28, 2016

Phils Rules For Debating Baptists

So you want to debate your Baptist brother on the issue of paedo-baptism do you? Before you do, you'd better take a quick minute to remind yourself of the things you already know. Like...

 

Baptists Are People

I don’t mean “Treat everyone as an individual and with respect”—although that’s true. I mean, before doing anything else, check yourself. In a forum full of people shooting at each other it can be tempting to think you can fly in, carpet bomb the inhabitants with a bunch of winning arguments, and then have the other side helplessly converting against their will to the sound of thunderous applause. You can’t, and that’s a dumb fantasy anyway. Instead, you need to remember that your brother is a rational, but also an emotional and volitional creature and therefore will not be convinced apart from a personal touch over time. People resist arguments because they have an emotional preference for stability, and because of inertia, not necessarily because your argument is bad (though it might be). Many Baptists, perhaps even most, hold their belief because that’s what they were taught and because it’s working well for them, and this forms an incentive for them to go on holding it. Admitting they were wrong probably means more than providing intellectual assent; it also likely requires making some personal changes they don’t relish or welcome. It’s normal then that their first, second, and third impulse is to reject what you’re saying. If the Baptist you’re working with hasn’t really thought about the topic of covenants or infant baptism then it’s almost certain they’re going to have a strong negative emotion or reaction to your argument, particularly if they don’t have a good  intellectual answer to give. They might even turn on the cap locks or start talking about your mama. That’s okay. It’s the internet. Strong emotions are to be expected in a debate like this. Just give them some space, be polite, be charitable—or as they’d say in the old days, be Christian. There’s a lot on the line here whether you realize it or not, because it’s very possible you’re asking them to give up all their friends in accepting your stance. So don’t be pushy. Besides resisting change is a defense mechanism that bears a lot of good fruit in general. You do the same and it’s wise of you. Most decisions will happen later as they mull over what you’ve offered them.
If you’re working with a Baptist who has thought about it however, who’s bright but for whatever reason absolutely will not defend their own position (keep reading to see what I mean), then that’s okay too. Let it go. God will make them Presbyterians when they get to glory. 

 

Stop The Strawmen

A strawman argument is when you change what your opponent is saying to something slightly different so that you can knock it over and make yourself look good. The strawman is easy to vanquish because it’s powerless against you—thus making this debate maneuver impossible to resist. Seriously, I’m convinced this is fallacy is quite literally irresistible. PHD’s in theology keep them in their fancy coats for emergencies just as readily as the lowly internet troll who prop up those bad-boys right at the start of the discussion. Expect it.
99 out of 100 times this happens because your Baptist brother is attempting to run a reducto-ad-absurdum against you to show that the logical stopping point of your doctrine is folly. They will say, “If infants don’t need to have faith when you baptize then why do adults need faith either? Why not just round up everyone and baptize them?” Or, “Baptizing children will make them think they’re saved since they’re now in the covenant, so you’re harming them by baptizing them.” They think they’ve got a handle on your position and can show you the problem with it (normally a very powerful trick) while in reality they’re simply misrepresenting you. If this happens then do the following two things to get the discussion unstuck.
First, don’t straw man them, ever. I cannot stress this enough. If you hear the words “That’s not what we believe” then apologize immediately. Don’t try to argue that since they restrict the new covenant to the elect that they should baptize upon election rather than upon confession. They believe people are to be baptized upon a credible confession of faith so respect that. Answer what they’re saying, not what you’d like them to be saying because it’s easier for you. In fact, just don’t do reductos altogether.
The second thing to do once the Baptist trots out the scarecrows (assuming you are blameless because you took my advice above) is to abort the discussion. I mean that. Refuse to go on until they acknowledge your actual viewpoint. If they can’t articulate your position in a way that you agree with then wait there until they’ve made a U-turn and come back around. It can happen to the best of us so be gracious when it does, but be polite and firm about discontinuing your debate. This is because if they want to make strawmen and don’t want to acknowledge their error then you’re done anyway, and you may as well politely excuse yourself from the wheat field. If you do decide to stay then have the good sense to keep your mouth shut so you can better enjoy the comforting warmth of the burning straw your brother is graciously providing you.

 

Embrace the Asymmetry

No matter how smart the Baptist you’re talking to is—even if a medium conjures Spurgeon from the grave and channels him into your online discussion—don’t take it for granted that the Baptist probably thinks you’re an irrational actor. To him you’re in the grip of a strange and unhealthy set of doctrines propagated by circumstance, something like voo-doo, or Roman Catholicism, though probably less damnable. In other words, you’re holding opinions which are to him totally insane. The older, wiser, and more stable of your Baptist brothers won’t be in this bind so much, but default position of the Baptist means that both covenants and baptism are defined in such a way that your position is incomprehensible from the get go.
Again, this means two things.
The first thing is that your personal dealings must be more pure than your opponent for the sake of your testimony. He may call you names and think you’re stupid, but you may not do it back, not only because that’s not good Christian behavior, but because he already suspects you of being brain damaged to begin with. Even if you feel it’s unfair the Baptists can start a knife fight whilst you shout gentlemanly phrases like “I say sir” and “the constable shalt hear of this” you cannot afford to allow him an opportunity to think he’s right about you. You must show the most excellent Festus that your learning hasn’t made you insane but is both true and reasonable.
Secondly it means the place you fight will always end up at the definition of the word covenant. As long as you let the Baptist use his own definition of baptism there’s absolutely no chance of him seeing your position as Biblical, so it’s better to know that going in. The result of this is that he’s laboring to prove you’re holding unbiblical positions and are in serious error while you’re laboring to show he needs to go just a little further. Baptists think Presbyterians are holding wrong views, Presbyterians think Baptists are not wrong in their knowledge, just incomplete.

 

Get Them To Play Defensively

I’m not sure how to get this done as an internet nobody, but if you’re debating a friend or a charitable brother, this is a lot easier to achieve. When debating a Baptist your goal is to get your brother to demonstrate with Scripture the reason he holds to a covenant discontinuity. Your aim is not to show why Presbyterianism is right so much as make him show himself why Baptist theology is groundless. Ask him the question, “on what grounds are children removed from the new covenant?”
He’ll respond by saying “children are not explicitly included it in.”
“But children were in the others right?”
“Well yeah.”
“So why not this last one? On what Scriptural grounds are they now excluded?”
You need to offer a point that gets under their skin and causes them to hang up all the pat answers they’ve stored up for such a time as this and really dig into the things themselves. Ask them to prove their presuppositions from Scripture. The two most common answers will be a variation of dispensationalism, or that the child element was fulfilled in Christ. Both are easy to refute once admitted. It may of course take awhile, but if you can get a promise from the Baptist to give you a defense of his doctrines based on careful Biblical analysis, then you’ve won the church a shiny new Presbyterian.


Friday, March 18, 2016

The First Covenant


Before the universe existed, before there was time, space, or matter, the triune God existed in perfect happiness and contentment. Although He didn’t need to do it, being in fully pleased in Himself, He nonetheless decided out of His abundant love to create beings with which to share His joy. To this end He formulated a plan that would go on for all eternity, “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Is 46:10). As a consequence, everything that’s ever happened since God said “let there be light” has merely been “whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4: 28). Every person born, every human decision made, every plant, star, rock, cloud, every tiny atom was known and placed and planned for an infinite amount of time before a single one came into being.
 

Why did He do this? The answer in a single word is revelation. God orchestrated everything in the universe to happen as it does in order to manifest His nature, His attributes, and His concerns. Desiring to show us who He is, He came up with the perfect way to progressively reveal more and more of Himself to creation. Or as the Bible says, glorify Himself.

The first part of Gods plan involved creating matter and energy, things which display “His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom 1:20b). As it is written, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1a) and “the heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see His glory” (Ps 97:6). The inanimate universe continually pours forth revelation about Him—which is why even if everyone were to cease acknowledging it, “the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40a).
Next God created the angels as servants (Heb 1:14), beings who would show His might (2 Peter 2:4), and be near Him to witness His works (Job 38:7). That’s why Isaiah records the angels nearest to God are continually “crying to another, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory’” (Is 6:3). Yet even as they watched the eternal plan of God unfolding before their eyes, even though they participate in bringing it to pass, they too do not fully understand it, though they long to (1 Peter 1:12).
Lastly, God made men so He could manifest His patience and mercy to all creation. Unlike the angels who are given no second chance, men enjoy the possibility of redemption, so that all can see how forgiving God is. As it is written, “God has concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32), and “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou may be feared” (Ps 130:4). God ordained (and in some sense desired) our disobedience because it was only after our fall that He could send His Son to the cross to demonstrate His glorious attributes of justice, holiness, loving-kindness, wrath, mercy, and unlimited grace together. Only once we became rebellious could we become humble, and only the humble can understand and appreciate who God is, which was His purpose from the beginning. This is why in speaking to believers Paul says in Ephesians 2:6-7, “He has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” We have ruined much, and have been forgiven much, that we may love much.

So before the foundation of the world God planned to reveal Himself to His creation. The plan first called for revelation through matter, then angels, then men. As Paul says, Gods goal was “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:9-10).

When speaking of God’s purpose for men, Reformed theologians like to use the phrase The Covenant of Redemption to emphasize how God the Father and God the Son agreed to save some chosen among mankind. The terms of this covenant were that the Father would send the Son to save all those He’d predestined and the Son would willingly go and complete the task given to Him. John 8:42 for example testifies that Jesus was sent: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love Me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me.”
 

And John 6:37-40 says that the elect will certainly be saved, “All who the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will in no way cast out. For I came down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the Father's will which has sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son, and believes in Him may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Put the two together and you have evidence that the first covenant God ever made was with Himself, to save us. As it says elsewhere, “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling—not according to our works—but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim 1:9).

But the problem with this classic formulation is that it makes it too easy to take the ego-centric, subjective part of God’s work for the whole. It can, and often does, result in the assertion that God’s purpose in sending Christ was no larger than saving the elect, and thus ignores the objective Godward component of the plan. Not that it’s untrue to say God will save His electon the contrary, it’s undoubtedly true He’ll do so—but this isn’t the whole truth. (Indeed, the classic definition of the covenant of redemption doesn’t even include the Holy Spirit but instead presents the covenant as an arrangement only between the Father and Son.)
We must therefore be careful to maintain that God’s plan is first and foremost to reveal His manifold perfections to all creation before addressing part of which involves saving elect mankind out of eternal ruin and misery. Otherwise we’ll lose sight of the forest for the trees. Our understanding must always go from the objective to subjective, from the universal to the particular, because going back the other way is both impossible and ineffectual. It’s God’s plan, not ours.

Now admittedly, using the mundane and generic word plan to speak of God’s glorious ongoing revelation of Himself which brings joy to creation doesn’t appropriately capture the majesty of the idea. Perhaps that’s why Paul calls it a “dispensation of the fullness of times” to emphasize the vastness and consistency of it, or why later theologians would call it a covenant to remind us that Gods plan is personal, relateable, and accomplished through the work of Christ. But call it however you please, it’s first and foremost an objective scheme; it begins with God, is about God, and finds its fulfillment in revealing God.

It goes without saying then that the history of our universe is merely the outworking of God’s eternal covenant of revelation. Our story, stretching all the way back to the beginning, is about the hidden council of God coming to light. And nowhere is this more plainly expressed than in the Bible, a book given to show us firstly who God is and then secondarily who we are.

Although much could be said about how this plan traces a bright line through the Scriptures, in the coming chapters we’ll confine our examination to the critical moments in the Biblical narrative when God reveals the work of Christ to us. We’ll keep a narrow focus on covenants, those moments when the light comes on and our understanding of God’s eternal plan leaps forward because that sets the stage for the book of Hebrews where Christ is seen to be the fulfillment of all Israel’s history. We begin therefore where the Scriptures begins, in the book of Genesis.