B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Why I am a Credobaptist

I recently had a discussion with a good Presbyterian brother on the subject of baptism, particularly as it pertains to paedobaptism (baptizing believers and infants of believing parents) vs. credobaptism (baptizing believers only). Briefly, several years ago I transitioned from a traditional Covenant Theology/paedobaptism view to something more like a New Covenant Theology/credobaptist view, largely through an on-going attempt to subject my own hermeneutical principles to Scripture. (This is the criticism which is often volleyed back-and-forth between dispensationalists and covenant theologians, namely, that one says the other’s system of interpretation contains unbiblical presuppositions which lead to forced and incorrect interpretations of the text at times. Since I often like to attempt to seek some unity within controversy, I tend to agree with both of them. *smile*)

That being said, there is no boldly explicit Scripture passage which states “Baptize infants” or “Baptize only believers,” etc. Thus, the controversy. One’s conclusion on the matter generally rests on conclusions one has drawn elsewhere on more explicit and clear matters of revelation, such as the progression of revelation, the nature of covenants (particularly the New Covenant), the apostacy warning passages of the New Testament, the semantics of baptizo, household baptisms, John’s baptisms, etc., etc. Frankly, I think a compelling biblical case can be made for both positions, granting certain assumptions in each case. However, I’d like to give a few of the reasons why I have settled on a credobaptist position. Feel free to use the comments section to ask questions, post counter-arguments or poke holes in my arguments. I would gladly affirm the Bible’s teaching in this matter (as in all others), whatever that proves to be.

All of that being said by way of introduction, here’s some thoughts pertaining to baptism:

It seems that the debate hinges quite heavily on one’s understanding of the relationship between the sign/seal of the Old Covenant (circumcision) and that of the New (baptism). This is often said to be intimately related to the amount of continuity or discontinuity one sees among the biblical covenants themselves (classically, Covenant Theology adhering to a continuous view, Dispensationalism a discontinuous view).

It would also appear that a pivotal text of Scripture is Col. 2:11-12 and context, since this is the one NT text which creates an explicit link between circumcision and baptism.

The paedobaptist sees baptism portrayed in the NT as a continuation of the earlier covenant sign of circumcision. If baptism is the parallel or continuation of circumcision, we ought to baptize the children of believing parents, just as Abraham circumcised both Isaac and Ishmael.

Meanwhile, the credobaptist tends to see baptism as the NT sign of the “anti-type,” for which OT circumcision is typological. If circumcision is a “type,” given to those physically descended from Abraham, then the physical sign of the “anti-type” should only be given to spiritual descendants of Abraham, after they have been spiritually “born again” into the New Covenant.

(Note: Typology is a form of revelation whereby an object, person, law, ritual, etc. is used to reveal a more significant spiritual reality in a tangible manner. Example: The OT sacrifical atonement system was a type intended to reveal in principle and prophetically point to the eventual perfect sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ, the anti-type.)

This is, in my opinion, a reasonable framing of the discussion, using the best argument from both sides.

The important question then is, What is the relationship between baptism and circumcision? Or, more specifically, are baptism and circumcision related by parallel or typology?

As mentioned before, it seems that the pivotal text in this regard
is found in Col. 2:

9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

In Col. 2 Paul is giving insight into what God has done for us historically, as well as what He has done in us through Christ’s redemption. He uses two images to depict what God has done in us: circumcision and resurrection. With regard to circumcision he says, (vs. 11) “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” This is a circumcision performed “without hands,” a spiritual circumcision, in which it is not the foreskin which is cut away, but “the body of the flesh.” “By the circumcision of Christ,” we have died to the sinful rebellious nature, been “buried with Him in baptism,” and have been resurrected with Him to new life through faith in the God who raises the dead. (Forgetting for a moment the current debate, aren’t these fantastic portrayals of all that is ours in Christ?)

Okay, this is the crucial juncture of the discussion. One’s interpretation here largely influences one’s position with regard to baptism. Notice, first, that this is a spiritual circumcision performed without hands. Paul is referring to a spiritual NT counterpart to the physical OT ritual. Baptism is then linked to that spiritual counterpart in vs. 12. What is the NT counterpart to the OT rite of circumcision? It is NOT the rite of baptism. The NT counterpart to OT circumcision is the spiritual circumcision of Christ cutting away the old, sinful “body of the flesh.” Baptism, then, is the external expression of this spiritual act of Christ. The “type” is circumcision; the “anti-type” is the Spirit of Christ’s work of regeneration, for which baptism is the sign. (I will forego any discussion of the error of “baptismal regeneration” at this point, since we are discussing Protestant views of baptism. The confusion on the Roman Catholic’s part may be somewhat understandable, but it has to be recognized that the sign [baptism] is not identical with the thing signified [regeneration].)

Notice what verse 11 stresses about the new work of Christ herein: it is a circumcision “without hands.” Water baptism is, of course, a ritual done “with hands.” If we simply say that this NT ordinance of baptism done with hands corresponds to the OT ritual of circumcision done with hands, then we miss the most important truth: something new is happening, in the creation of the people of God called the “church of Christ.” We are being set apart by God through a “circumcision without hands.” We are being raised from the dead by God. Baptism is a sign of that resurrection, not a continuation of the OT sign. There is a New sign of the covenant because the covenant people are being constituted in a New way: by spiritual birth, not physical birth.

All of the OT types are Christocentric. They find their fulfillment in the NT person and/or work of Jesus Christ, who is the “guarantee of a better covenant, founded on better promises.” (Heb. 7:22, 8:6)

As John Calvin puts it in his Institutes, “For what is more vain or absurd than for man to offer a loathsome stench from the fat of cattle in order to reconcile themselves to God? Or to have recourse to the sprinkling of water and blood to cleanse away their filth? In short, the whole cultus of the law, taken literally and not as shadows and figures corresponding to the truth, will be utterly ridiculous.” (2.7.1)

This interpretation also moves my view outside of the “continuity vs. discontinuity” arguments, since I agree regarding the continuity between the Old and New Covenants, I simply argue for a different kind of continuity than the classical Covenant Theologian: typological continuity which is Christocentric, rather than parallel continuity which is centered on the Covenant of Grace.

I would reject the Seven Dispensations framework of classical Dispensationalism, while also rejecting the One Covenant with Multiple Administrations framework of classical Covenant Theology, finding much more in common with the Baptistic Covenant Theologians of yesteryear (such as the framers of the 1646 London Baptist Confession of Faith) or the contemporary New Covenant Theologians.

Briefly, I think Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians make the same mistake: each is seeking a physical fulfillment for OT prophecies, types, figures, laws and shadows which are spiritual realities in Christ. The Dispensationalist and the Covenant Theologian begin with very different premises, but both come to the conclusion that a group of physical descendants must be the fulfillment of certain OT promises to ancient Israel. The Dispensationlist makes a sharp distinction between the Church and Israel, declaring that national, ethnic Israel must fulfill the promises given to them under the Old Covenant (through a re-nationalization in 1948 and so on). The Covenant Theologian declares that the physical children of believers today must fulfill the promises given to Abraham’s physical children (national, ethnic Israel) by being baptized into the New Covenant. As I said, both seek physical fulfillment for what are spiritual realities.

To round out the biblical argument above, I’ll add three brief points and leave it at that.

1.) The baptism of households in the NT seems to me to be less central and more peripheral, though some would disagree. Gregg Strawbridge’s arguments for paedobaptism largely rest on his conclusions regarding the household baptisms as paradigmatic for the New Covenant. However, I think both sides can give reasonable explanations for this within their own frameworks, without bending the Scripture. From the Baptist perspective, if we take the historical example of Cornelius’ household in Acts 10 as an exemplar for the other household baptisms mentioned in the NT there is no problem for the credobaptist since Cornelius “feared God with all his household” (vs. 2). At the end of the chapter the Holy Spirit fell on “all who heard the word” and Peter baptizes them all. When Paul says he baptized the household of Stephanus in Corinth it makes a certain amount of exegetical sense to allow the in-depth historical account of the first household baptism in Acts 10 to exert an influence over the understanding of the “household language” (interpreting the less detailed passages in light of the more clear ones). This, of course, doesn’t settle it, but as I said above I think the household baptism point is moot, since both sides can adequately explain it.

2.) The Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. If physical baptism is the New Testament counterpart of Old Testament physical circumcision in the direct 1:1 correspondence way which is given in the paedobaptist position then what was the point of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15? If physical baptism is the direct counterpart of physical circumcision, signifying the same things to the same people, then why all of the controversy over whether or not it was necessary for Gentile believers to be circumcised? The point would be made moot by the Covenant Theologian’s understanding of baptism. Simply explain that physical baptism is the New Covenant reiteration of physical circumcision and, voila, problem solved. Everybody’s happy. But it was not that simple, was it? At this point the paedobaptists must admit that their view of baptism and circumcision is different in some key ways from that of the Apostles.

3.) Apostasy and the New Covenant. Apostasy is merely a necessary, though not sufficient condition for infant baptism. One can believe the New Covenant has an eschatological element to it and that the church is a mixed multitude of elect and non-elect until Judgment Day but still have no explicit ground for paedobaptism, given the argumentation supplied above.

Repost: A Case Study in Apostasy

Here’s one from the archives that I’ve been thinking over during some sermon preparation:

I had planned to write a chapter-by-chapter critical review of prominent atheist John Loftus’ book, Why I Am an Atheist; however, upon reading the book I believed that such an analysis was overkill and unnecessary in refuting Loftus’ claims. Providentially, shortly after I finished reading Loftus’ three books the fellas over at Triablogue released their collaboration, The Infidel Delusion, in response to Loftus, et al. So I thought my little collection of posts might just be blogospheric white noise in the flurry of responses exchanged.

So I reworked the bit that I had written in response to Loftus as a brief case study in apostasy, viewed from an apologetic perspective. I hope that some might find it useful in recognizing and avoiding some of the pitfalls which may lead to apostasy. Some may object that doing a case study in apostasy is too critical or harsh. They would prefer to speak merely in categories or generalities about such issues. However, since he believes this chapter contains salient facts related to his cumulative case argument against Christianity, Loftus opens up his experience for critical analysis, which I will cautiously provide. Ad hominem fallacies will be consciously avoided, since the truth value of Loftus’ argumentation should be considered independently from his biographical data.

They were sad chapters to read, in many ways and for many reasons. It’s always sad to read of the failures of others. And these chapters were full of failures of many kinds.

Loftus begins the book with a challenge for Christians: “Anyway, Christian, for once in your life, you need to seriously examine your faith. By virtue of the fact that your faith is something you prefer to be true, you should subject it to critical analysis at least once in your life. If you laid aside the fact that you think Christianity is true and merely asked yourself if you prefer that it’s true, you’ll see quite plainly that you do. How do you know you don’t believe what you prefer to be true?” (12)

In the above quote, take out the words “Christian/ity” and replace it with “atheist/atheism.” It makes equal sense. This is what’s called a double-edged criticism. There’s no reason to grant presumptively that any given instance of atheism involves more examination than any given instance of Christianity; this is the author simply projecting his own experience onto his audience. If the criticism that “beliefs are based on preference” applies to Christianity, it applies equally to atheism, polytheism, and fern worship. Either Loftus’ criticism above is valid and he is an atheist because he prefers to believe atheism is true or he’s guilty of granting atheism a special status that he doesn’t grant to Christianity without providing any argumentation supporting that position. This is tendentious from the outset; however, no apologist familiar with the non-neutrality principle of covenantal apologetics should be surprised by this (for those unfamiliar read this, particularly pp. 447-448).

The problem is not that Loftus is not neutral in his statements; it’s that he thinks he is and he purports to be while he is not. This is especially worth noting since many of his readers (regardless of their varied theistic commitments) will tend to grant that neutrality is possible, even desirable at times, and that many of Loftus’ statements exemplify such neutrality. But neutrality is impossible; if Christ is Lord of all, nothing is neutral.

“…I consider part 1, “The Basis for My Control Beliefs,” to be the most significant part of my whole case… But since my skeptical control beliefs don’t tell me what to think about the specific evidence itself, I’ll also examine the biblical evidence in part 2, and then conclude with what I believe today in part 3.” (emphasis added, 12)

It seems like it should be too early in the book for the author to have made such a complete blunder. Loftus asserts that his “skeptical control beliefs don’t tell (him) what to think about the specific evidence itself,” essentially stating that his control beliefs don’t control his beliefs about evidence. Either the beliefs control or they don’t. This is flagrantly self-contradictory and demonstrates a deep lack of epistemological self-consciousness. This is further exemplified by simply citing the author’s own definition of “control beliefs” given later in the book: “Control beliefs are those beliefs that control how we view the evidence… Since how we each look at the evidence is controlled to a large degree by certain control beliefs of ours, I want to know how to justify those control beliefs themselves.” (emphasis added, 59)

This error reflects the same problem of non-neutrality mentioned above. Loftus wishes to present himself as objective and neutral regarding the biblical evidence he surveys in part 2 of the book, but this contradicts his stated recognition that control beliefs exert control over other beliefs. Skeptical control beliefs control his view of the biblical evidence; to admit this is to admit that part 2 of the book is entirely question-begging (and little worth reading, therefore). It’s either dishonest or naive to recognize the role “control beliefs” or presuppositions play in examining evidence, then to declare the opposite when it is convenient for one’s own position.

Loftus then gives us his bona fides as a Christian apologist, having (among other things) earned a Th.M. under William Lane Craig at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in ’85. “I was a Christian apologist with the equivalent of a PhD degree in the philosophy of religion, set for the express purpose of defending Christianity from intellectual attacks. I was not afraid of any idea because I was convinced that Christianity was true and could withstand all attacks.” (13)

The reader should recognize that Loftus failed in his “express purpose of defending Christianity from intellectual attacks,” and is in this very significant respect nothing like “us.” He was “convinced that Christianity was true”… until he wasn’t. He proved that, in fact, he wasn’t just like “us,” and no Christian should be tricked by such attempts at short-circuiting our critical thinking with biographical narratives.

Loftus imports many biographical tidbits into his argumentation, attempting subversive persuasion based on his superficial once-Christian credentials. How can I call a Th.M from TEDS a superficial mark of Christianity? Well, quite easily, actually, since, the most significant Christian credential is persevering faith, which Loftus never had, and his Christian readers would do well to keep that in mind. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 Jn 2:19)

Loftus was “a problem teenager” (20), who came to Christianity through a Pentecostal ministry in Ft. Wayne, IN, where his life was “radically changed” (20). Shortly thereafter he was introduced to the evidentialism of Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Hal Lindsey’s predictive dispensational premillennialism, the pragmatistic presuppositionalism of Francis Schaeffer, and the ubiquitous works of C.S. Lewis. Sounds like a fairly standard 20th century evangelical experience. Loftus is briefly critical of each author and footnotes various criticisms he believes conclusively demonstrate problems with each. Apart from the varied merits (or lack of merits, as would apply) of each theologian mentioned, one could be critical of each and still remain a Christian. In fact, I would recommend it. Of those mentioned, I have benefited most from Schaeffer’s work, though I do recognize the validity of Thomas V. Morris’ criticisms (as cited by Loftus). So much the worse for Schaeffer’s particular methodology and so much the better for mine.

Loftus wants to look at some key initial questions: “…what bias or presumption is the correct one when approaching the Christian faith? None of us sets out to study Christianity without some bias one way or another.” (22)

This is a valid and important question for us all, and it appears to recognize the nature of the antithesis mentioned above. Briefly, I will propose that there are only two options: one will approach Christianity either presuming its claims to be true or false. This sounds a bit outlandish at first, doesn’t it? Can’t someone approach Christianity as possibly true or false? This is a very reasonable question.

There is no third option as the result of the all-encompassing nature of the claims of Christianity. The de jure question is not independent of the de facto question. To assume that one is “objectively” judging the claims of Christianity is to assume an autonomy from Christ which contradicts Christianity; meaning that one is assuming that Christianity is false in order to conclude that it is false.

But, if this is the case, musn’t the Christian be guilty of fallacious circular reasoning in assuming the truth of Christianity? For brevity’s sake, I’ll answer this question with an argument from the lesser to the greater by analogy. Imagine you are called upon to prove the existence of space or time to someone who doubts or denies their existence. How would you do it without assuming the existence of space or time? The short answer is, you couldn’t. Even more so regarding arguing for the existence of the Creator of space and time.

Loftus mentions that a professor of his “drummed into his students the perfectly reasonable Christian idea that ‘all truth is God’s truth’ – that all truth comes from God whether considered sacred or secular.” (23) I take note of this statement because the idea that “all truth is God’s truth” is as common as it is misbegotten. While it may have meant one thing when Augustine first said it (in book two of De Doctrina Christiana, “A person who is a good and a true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature.”), it has come to be something of a wax nose today, used to justify any anti-Christian position which one desires to synthesize with biblical Christianity.

We also see in Loftus’ quoted statement above an example of inconsistent thinking which is wide-spread in contemporary evangelical worldviews. If all truth really is God’s truth then a distinction between sacred and secular makes no sense, since it would clearly follow that all truth is sacred truth. Loftus’ sacred-secular dualism was anti-biblical and a philosophical wedge in his thinking, waiting to be driven home, separating him from Christ. Where has dualism crept into your worldview?

Loftus’ stated deconversion story begins when he commits adultery with a woman, Linda, with whom he worked in ministry. Immediately, Loftus shifts the blame to Linda, stating that “she had it in for preachers, and she took out her wrath on me… There are mitigating factors here, even if I did do wrong. And I did do wrong. But until you experience something like this you will never understand.” (25) Even if he did do wrong? Why must I commit adultery and take no responsibility for it in order to understand that adultery is a sin and the fallout from sin is horrendously undesirable? It requires a hardened, irrational heart to admit guilt and provide self-justification in the same breath.

Loftus even blames God for his sin: “The biggest question of all was why God tested me by allowing her to come into my life when she did if he knew in advance I would fail the test?”(26) Loftus portrays himself as a cosmic victim. However, an even bigger question might be, since Loftus was a highly-educated Christian minister, why hadn’t he thought about such matters (God’s sovereignty over sin) before this, maybe when he had committed other (albeit less consequentially painful) sins? Finding a biblical answer to questions of this nature is one major step toward apostasy-proofing one’s self. Fleeing adultery would be another aid. “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished.” (Pr 6:27-29)

It appears that after the adultery, at a time when resolving marital issues might have wisely been a top priority, Loftus chose rather to investigate the theological implications of the age of the universe, engaging in a correspondence debate with his biochemist cousin. It’s hard to imagine a subject which has less to do with repenting from adultery and restoring a gutted marriage than academically investigating the age of the universe for the first time. A word for theologians and students: repentance must always precede research. You cannot move directly from bickering with your spouse or slandering an associate to unrepentantly studying God’s word without consequences on your heart and mind.

Loftus recognized that the biblical pattern for creation “doesn’t square with astronomy,” (26) as its been most recently formulated and adopts the position that the early chapters of Genesis are myth. He then projects onto the sky various intuitions about what he would do if he created the universe, and “nearly two years later, (he) came to deny the Christian faith.” He states that “it required too much intellectual gerrymandering to believe.” (27)

For those interested in the age of the universe controversy, see Harvard PhD geologist Kurt Wise’s article here. It’s a “gerrymandering”-free article, which presents the consistent antithesis between Christianity and unbelief.

It appears that Loftus remained in the pulpit of his church and various other ministries during this period; this was an utter failure of church discipline, which is ultimately a failure of love. It’s sad to read a story of such thorough faithlessness on so many levels, involving so many people. He outlines various “he said – she said” situations of small church and broader denominational politics which led him to eventually leave the church altogether. “I often ask myself why Christians don’t seem to act any better than others when they alone claim to have the power, wisdom, and guidance of God right there within them.” (30) Intellectually, that sinners (even redeemed ones) still act like sinners is not problematic, but it can produce some of the greatest suffering in life; and sin and suffering combine well to short-circuit reason.

Loftus’ story presents a “sincere and honest” picture of apostasy. It shows clearly the irrationality of sin and the inextricable link between moral and theological failure. It is a cautionary tale for all Christians, and the Bible is not silent on matters such as these either. 1 Timothy 1 closes with these words, “This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”

By rejecting faith and a good conscience some have made shipwreck of their faith. A characteristic of Christian ministry is waging good warfare, “fighting the good fight.” It is a struggle, a battle, a way of life; and the weapons of this good warfare are holding faith and a good conscience. Faith is never an end in itself, it doesn’t mean anything by itself. When the NT refers to “faith” it is referring to more than mere belief, because belief in itself is nothing. It is inseparable from its object: Christ. Paul is telling Timothy to hold on to Christ. A “good conscience” is not merely finding peace with one’s self by appealing to universal guilt or the specific guilt of others (as Loftus does), but results from a careful, sensitive application of the Gospel to our lives, to our sins. Christ bears our guilt and produces in us a good conscience, so that we can have hope and begin to act like who we are in Him.

Paul goes on and shows the opposite of this good warfare, those who have not kept faith and a good conscience. The rejection, the shipwreck of the faith begins with a certain carelessness or indifference in Christian living and in applying the Gospel to ourselves. It begins with a careless conscience and it ends with a “seared conscience” (1 Tim 4:2). The result of stifling one’s conscience produces a moral derailment which more and more eats away at our sensitivity to truth. Violating one’s conscience in one way or another undermines our ability to discern true from false, right from wrong, through a process of self-justification (e.g. Loftus’ blame-shifting or his sudden desire to investigate the age of the universe, etc.), rather than seeking justification in Christ.

This violation persists until it is as if the conscience were seared with a hot iron, so that one can blaspheme openly and unabashedly in a “good conscience” (e.g. Loftus’ entire book).

Moral and theological decline go together. We need to recognize there is no such thing as a purely theological controversy. And we must not underestimate the centrality of the Gospel in all of life, including our philosophy and apologetics. Moral decay breeds rational decline. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” (Ps 2:11)

Fristianity Refuted

Here’s a really rough thumbnail sketch of a non-question begging argument refuting Fristianity (written from my phone).

In Christianity, the categorical three term syllogism (“Barbara”) is grounded in the intratrinitarian relationships within the Godhead:

1.) All that belongs to the Son (B) belongs to the Father (A).
2.) All that belongs to the Spirit (C) belongs to the Son (B).
3.) Therefore, all that belongs to the Spirit (C) belongs to the Father (A).

1.) All Bs are As.
2.) All Cs are Bs.
3.) Therefore, all Cs are As.

The Fristian quadrinity, even with a mysterious role for the fourth person, by the nature of the unity in the quadrinity would produce a four term syllogism, which is formally fallacious. The Fristian god cannot provide the necessary preconditions for logic.

Thoughts?

(Argument inspired by Vern Poythress.)

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