Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fesko on Baptism: Reflections

After having read Part I of J. V. Fesko's three-part book, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, in which Fesko traces the historical theology of baptism, a few thoughts came to mind:

- The London Baptist Confession 1689 sticks out like a sore thumb by claiming immersion is the only valid administration of baptism. Baptism, as a sign and seal of the New Covenant, is meant, analogous to circumcision, to reflect the the cleansing of Christ's blood and the washing of regeneration. Imagery of these significations in both the Old and New Testaments include, in contrast to "immersion," both sprinkling and pouring (e.g. Ezekiel 36:25, Luke 22:20, Titus 3:6, 1 Peter 1:2).

- The Reformers were awesome. Fesko covers, in brief, the beliefs regarding the nature of the sacraments and [infant] baptism of the following Reformers and Reformed Catechisms: Calvin, Polanus, Wollebius, Ames, Turretin, Witsius, The Thirty-Nine Articles, the Irish Articles, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession. I hadn't even heard of some of these giants, but I believe that out of all of them, I shall be revisiting Witsius the soonest.

- The Abrahamic covenant received brief attention, and though I expect it will be treated later in the book, I cannot help drawing attention to the fact of covenant continuity and its implications. A standard point of difference between Baptists and Presbyterians is the extent to which each see a covenant continuity. I will not post an extensive defense of infant baptism here, as I expect it will be treated by Fesko in Part II or III, wherein he considers baptism from the perspectives of biblical and systematic theology, respectively. However, the cumulative force of several of the following [paraphrased] observations made by the aforementioned Reformers necessitate the practice of infant baptism:

1) Circumcision no longer functions as the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant, a covenant which has not been abrogated (cf. Galatians 3-4).

2) In order for it to be true that the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant extend to Abraham's descendants and throughout their generations (Genesis 17:7), it must be the case that we have a correlative sign and seal by which we may claim, as could Abraham, that we have a covenant in our flesh for an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:13).

3) Although it may be imprecise to call baptism a replacement for circumcision, since there are differences which shall, in due time, be pointed out, it is undeniable that baptism signifies the same soteric activity as did circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12). It is the sign and seal of the God's eternal covenant with Abraham (Galatians 3:27ff.).

4) Moreover, infants were regarded as members of the OT covenant community, as is evident from the fact that the sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant was applied to them at the command of God (Genesis 17:12).

5) Baptists sometimes complain that there is no explicit Scriptural command to baptize infants. I believe I will from now on complain that Baptists cannot point in Scripture wherein infants born after the institution of baptism are said to be cut off from the Abrahamic covenant. That is indeed what Baptists must argue, for there is no other reason to deny a member of the covenant the sign and seal of that covenant, given that the parallel sacrament from the OT (circumcision) was applied indiscriminately (cf. Matthew 19:13, Acts 2:39, 1 Corinthians 7:14, et. al.).

- One final observation, and I believe it is the most interesting: Fesko mentions in his section on Luther that Luther wavered between the idea that infant baptism implies infants possess faith and the idea that infant baptism is based on the faith of another (fides aliena). While Luther ultimately defended the former, the contrast compelled me to examine the Roman Catholic belief, for what reason I shall make clear in a moment.

Augustine, upon whom Fesko argues Rome grounded their baptismal practice, wrote in Book I of his A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants:

Chapter 25. Infants are Described as Believers and as Penitents. Sins Alone Separate Between God and Men.

“Some one will say: How then are mere infants called to repentance? How can such as they repent of anything? The answer to this is: If they must not be called penitents because they have not the sense of repenting, neither must they be called believers, because they likewise have not the sense of believing. But if they are rightly called believers, because they in a certain sense profess faith by the words of their parents, why are they not also held to be before that penitents when they are shown to renounce the devil and this world by the profession again of the same parents?”

Now it is clear that Augustine held to fides aliena, and predicated the validity of infant baptism upon the faith of the parents. The sense in which infants are said to be believers is not due to intrinsic faith, but is rather coventantal or relational: viz. the infant was to be regarded a believer due to the faith of his or her parents. It would appear, at least, that Rome has followed suit, as its Catechism, while qualifying that the fides aliena is a reference to the church, nevertheless teaches fides aliena:

1282 Since the earliest times, Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptized in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.

However, if infants are regarded by God as believers on the basis of the faith of another, this undercuts the ontological charge of "legal fiction" so commonly put forth against the Protestant teaching on justification. It seems to me that the closer Rome gets to covenant theology, the less they are able to wield these types of arguments.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Ultimate Cause of Sin

The following is a response to a modified Arminian who cited 2 Samuel 12:9b as proof that one who causes sin is a sinner. His point was to undercut my belief that God is the ultimate cause of all things.

//I encounter this objection from time to time. Sin, like obedience is relational. To what? The law. David's sin was that he intended the unlawful slaughter of Uriah. You would agree, I hope, with the idea that David's choice would have been sinful even if Uriah had counter-factually lived. Why? Because David's intention constituted a breach in God's law.

Now, the way in which God relates to the law is different from the way man relates to the law. Example: God can't steal or covet, because He owns everything. But that there is a disanalogy means the burden of proof is on the one who relies on an analogy between the relation between God and the law and the relation between man and the law to show that what applies to the latter applies to the former.

In this case, you suggest that if God sent the Ammonites to kill Uriah, He would have sinned. But God's intentions and David's intentions would necessarily have been different. Uriah was a sinner in God's eyes, as was Isaac when God commanded Abraham to kill him in Genesis 22 or as were the Israelites when God sent the Assyrians to kill them in Isaiah 10. Note that God judged the Assyrians but commended Abraham. Why? Because the immediate intentions of each were that by which each was judged. Hence, Abraham was commended because He obeyed God's precept, whereas the Assyrians were judged because they disobeyed God's precepts.

If any analogy exists, then, it would be between the fact that whether or not one has broken the law is ascertained by checking his - immediate cause's - intentions and how they relate to the law. That's why I've asked repeatedly what law God has broken for having decreed sin or how God has acted contrary to His nature by ultimately causing sin. Your silence suggests you can't think of one, in which case my position stands as do my arguments in its favor.

At most, the above passage shows it is wrong for humans to cause sin. Even disregarding my above points, that itself would be an inductive argument, and inductive arguments are fallacious.

...I have demonstrated God's eternal omniscience necessitates God is the ultimate cause of all things. I have demonstrated that by ultimately causing sin, God's maximally manifests His glory, which, in fact, is what it means to be righteous. I can quote myself again, but I'm getting tired of repeating myself.//

Gordon Clark similarly comments:

"...neither the eighth commandment nor any other applies to God. God cannot steal for the simple reason that he owns everything. Obviously he cannot obey the fifth commandment. God is righteous in the sense that he determines the laws of righteousness; we are righteous in proportion to our obedience to those laws." - The Pastoral Epistles, pg. 119

While Clark's point that God is not obligated to obey the same commandments we are is on the mark, I would add, in conjunction with the above link to the post on John Piper's exegesis of Romans 9, that both God's righteousness and ours can be said to be proportional to how the actions of each reflect God's glory: insofar as God's glory is maximally manifested through God being the ultimate cause of reality, God is righteous, and insofar as man perfectly obeys that which he ought to obey, thus appreciating rather than scorning God's glory, he is righteous.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

100th post: An indulgent look back

I don't usually reflect, so for those few who read this blog, feel free to skip over this post, as it's more for my benefit than anyone else's. Or maybe God will, in the spirit of the verse I have at the top of this blog, use this as an opportunity to help someone.

When I started this blog a little over a year ago, I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep putting out new material at a consistent rate. After all, I tried starting a blog two years ago and got no further than half a dozen posts before I realized I was out of my depth.

While a part of me still feels that way, I've been blessed to have had the opportunity within the past year to have written some book reviews, had my first semi-formal debate, and have written a couple of essays I believe do an adequate, if incomplete, job of beginning to address why I believe what I believe. It's amazing how much God has taught me in the three and a half years since I've had my spiritual awakening.

Prior to that awakening, I grew up in a Christian high school which I admittedly took for granted. After a semester of college, I picked up a witty book which contained some quotes by Soren Kierkegaard, who, although he believed some wrong, wrong things, I will always be indebted to for having been the occasion by which my interest in philosophy and theology was piqued.

This being back in 2007 and having just gone to college, what with the facebook craze rising, I started to discuss theology on different groups. Naturally, my upbringing coupled with my personality gifted me with knowledge of facts without the wisdom to know how to use them, much less systematize them. When I received my first introduction to Reformed Theology, however, I was struck by its depth and rationality. Some people are turned off by that, and I doubt I'll ever know why. I won't brag too much, I hope, by mentioning after a half a week talking about it with some people, I accepted it as an accurate, sound, systematic representation of salvation. Even as I have come to appreciate its implications, I still believe that.

After a year of reading various authors, I began to list several doctrines which seemed to me to be very important, told myself I would study each of them for a given period of time, and then - somehow - put it all together. That lasted a week, maybe. Still, as I look back, I can discern distinct periods in which my knowledge of a given subject was raised to a high level: the first year it was sola gratia, the second year it was sola fide, and in the last year and a half it's been sola scriptura.

But it's true what they say: "the more you know, the more you know how ignorant you are." That is to say, God's word is truth, and truth is systematic; while I believe it is a duty to systematize truth - for that is the only way to give a cogent defense for one's faith - it can be (and is, for me) an overwhelming prospect. So I'll end this, my 100th post, with a prayer that God will give me the understanding and wisdom for 100 more, always with 1 Corinthians 4:7 in the back of my mind.