I’m re-posting a comment left on Bobby’s blog, at his suggestion. The general topic of discussion was on the parameters of the Reformed label. Bobby asked me if I considered myself, “Reformed.” Here’s my trajectory-laden response:

I usually describe myself as Reformed or Calvinist to other people, if they have any idea what that means. Otherwise, I just say “evangelical.” I always qualify my use of the Reformed label, since a lot of people instantly think about TULIP. I’m not entirely opposed to Dort. In fact, I think the Canons of Dort are rather oustanding in many respects: e.g., the problem of leaving the expansion of God’s kingdom to the contingency of human free will. As I’ve mentioned before, Barth is firmly within the Reformed scheme when it comes to omnicausality (the term he uses, and which John Webster uses) and a rejection of Molinism. This aspect of Reformed theology is where I’m in quite a lot of agreement, as long as it is adheres to a synchronic (or non-competitive) double agency of God and man. That was Barth’s view, and it appears to be the view of the 17th century orthodox. So, in this regard, my only real problem with TULIP is the L, along with rationalist presentations of the U and I. In other words, if we interpret U and I in regard to synchronic agency and replace L with universal atonement, then we’ve got a form of Reformed theology that I am happy to call my own. That’s a good example of working within the Reformed confessional tradition, pushing the boundaries, and not making the confessional standards on par with Scripture.

I do like the label, “free church.” Barth himself was both Reformed and free church in his approach to theology and his view of the church. His understanding of confessional subscription (vis-a-vis Scripture) is virtually identical with a lot of Baptist theologians, including Southern Baptist theologians. The Southern Baptist confessional heritage begins with the London Baptist Confession (17th century), then the Philadelphia Confession (18th century), then the New Hampshire Confession (19th century), and then the Baptist Faith and Message (20th century), now in its third revision in order to add complementarian gender roles and to affirm God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. This continual revision of confessional standards is a very good thing, and it is something I greatly admire about the SBC. Interestingly, the London and Philly confessions were strongly federal — essentially rewrites of the Westminster Confession — but this Calvinism was then mitigated with the New Hampshire Confession and then the BFM. If you read the BFM, you will see that it still stands within a broadly Reformed confessional tradition. Here is the article on election:

“Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. [paragraph break] All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. ”

That’s pure Calvinism, if you ask me. The whole point about how election “comprehends all the means in connection with the end” is a classic Reformed qualification, going back to the Westminster Confession (article 3) and before that. This sort of revision and updating is exactly what the PCA, OPC, URC, etc. need, but I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

Unless you are a true theology nerd, you probably didn’t get half of that.

“Our God”

November 18, 2010

Chris Tomlin’s latest album was released this week. Here is the lead track:

By the way, the guy who does the review for the album, Kevin R. Davis, is actually not me. We just happen to have the same first and last name, and he reviews all the same Christian albums that I like.

Baptism, latest musings

November 15, 2010

As some of you know, I’ve been working through the doctrine of baptism, off and on, for the last year or so. I’ve read all or parts of some of the most well-known treatments of the subject: Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament (credobaptist), Jewett’s Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (credobaptist), Cullmann’s Baptism in the New Testament (paedobaptist), Wilson’s To a Thousand Generations (paedobaptist), Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.4 (credobaptist), Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church (credobaptist), and the relevant portions of Calvin’s Institutes (paedobaptist) and Thielicke’s The Evangelical Faith (paedobaptist). As I’ve noted before, I’m most interested in the alternatives within a broader Reformed and evangelical soteriology.

With all that learning under my belt, you’d expect that I would have a fixed and certain position on the subject. I wish that were the case. I do have a much clearer understanding than previously. Most especially, I’ve come to see the importance of secondary results or consequences which arise from a church’s baptismal practice. For many people, these secondary consequences are the deciding factor in choosing between credobaptist and paedobaptist communions. So, what is the best illustration?

In a credobaptist church and family, the child is an object of evangelism. The parent considers his or her child as an object of evangelism in a very similar way that the same parent may consider an agnostic co-worker to be an object of evangelism. The child needs to be presented with the Gospel, repent, and receive Christ as Lord and Savior. So, usually between the ages of five and seven, Baptist parents will sit-down with their son or daughter and ask about his or her thoughts on Jesus. After the child accepts Christ, he or she will receive a public baptism before the whole congregation during the worship service. Thereafter, the child is considered a member of the body of Christ and, therefore, a member of the Church (universal) and the church (local).

In a Reformed paedobaptist church, the child is considered, or “presumed,” as a member of the body of Christ and the Church, or, at the least, as a member of the covenant. As such, the child may not be, as of yet, converted and made new (holy), but he or she is “federally holy.” The child is taught the Christian faith and exhorted toward continual faith in Christ, but he or she is not considered as an object of evangelism in the same way as the Baptist child. As a member of the covenant, the child would have to actively break covenant in order to be considered outside of Christ and his Church. [Side note: The current controversy over the “federal vision” is precisely on the question of how, or to what extent, the child is united with Christ at baptism.]

There are clear advantages and disadvantages to both positions, which makes the issue all the more difficult to resolve. To my mind, there is an undeniable and praiseworthy connection between Baptist baptismal practice and the effectiveness of Baptist evangelism. The Baptist puts in the forefront the necessity of conversion: “you must be born again” (John 3:7-8). As such, the child is ever-conscious of the need to trust in Christ, just as all others are in need of being brought to Christ. [Side note: This intense focus on the work of Christ has done much to keep the Baptist churches, on the whole, from adopting aberrant liberal or existential Christologies.] However, the emphasis on personal conversion is problematic, especially from a paedobaptist vantage point. The paedobaptist rightly criticizes the Baptist over-emphasis on the emotional life as an indicator of conversion. A particular experience becomes the litmus test for true faith, and invariably as a child matures and enters adulthood the experiences of childhood are questioned and tested against further developments in understanding. This psychological burden is largely bypassed by the (Reformed) paedobaptist emphasis on an objective covenant and the antecedent work of God on our behalf. Presbyterians don’t typically worry about whether they are saved or not, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing insofar as a person’s feelings should not be made the measure of faith and obedience; it is a bad thing insofar as faith and obedience does require conversion and personal assent to the Gospel. The Baptist can tend to collapse the work of Christ into experience; the Presbyterian can tend to devalue experience and regeneration altogether.

So, these are the secondary consequences of baptismal practice; or, rather, baptismal practice is the consequence of a primary over-arching understanding of the covenants and faith. When the exegesis is not entirely persuasive in one direction or the other, these are the considerations that become the determining factor. Thus, the relative values ascribed to evangelism and experience (the credobaptist virtues/vices) or doctrinal excellence and catechesis (the paedobaptist virtues/vices) are of great importance in this debate.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the new NIV, which debuted today. The print edition is scheduled for March of next year and will retain the name, “NIV” (not “NIV 2011″).  As much as I appreciate the RSV and ESV, the NIV is still my favorite translation, especially when it comes to the Old Testament. I was disappointed with the TNIV’s over-extension of a “gender-accurate” method, which often enough distorted the text (see below). On the positive side, the TNIV included some needed textual updates. As many of you know, the TNIV was almost a complete failure, despite several high-profile evangelical endorsements. Why? A far greater number of evangelical leaders rejected it and exhorted churches to do likewise. The Reformed wing of evangelicalism was nearly unanimous in trashing the TNIV, and the Dispensational wing mostly ignored it. Several major Christian bookstore chains refused to stock it, following the example of (SBC-owned) Lifeway.

The point of contention was gender-accuracy. As readers of this blog may know, I’m not exactly Wayne Grudem’s biggest fan, but he rightly pinpointed numerous instances where the TNIV’s gender-neutrality distorted the text. Some of his examples are stronger than others, and, yes, many are not terribly important. I’m not sure how happy Grudem will be with the new NIV. It rightly adopts gender-neutrality in several places, especially Paul’s address to “brothers and sisters.” Yet, the new NIV often resorts to the original NIV (1984), or opts for a third/mediating translation, in most of Grudem’s examples. For your convenience, here is a selection from Grudem’s list, with the new NIV added.

VERSE: Genesis 5:2

NIV: He created them male and female…. And when they were created, he called them “man.”

TNIV (2005): He created them male and female…. And when they were created, he called them “human beings.”

NIV (2011): He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind”[a] when they were created.

  1. Hebrew adam

VERSE: Psalm 8:4

NIV: What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

TNIV (2005): What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

NIV (2011): what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?[a]

  1. Or what is a human being that you are mindful of him, / a son of man that you care for him?

VERSE: Psalm 34:20

NIV: He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

TNIV (2005): He protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken.

NIV (2011): he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

VERSE: Proverbs 13:1

NIV: A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.

TNIV (2005): A wise child heeds a parent’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.

NIV (2011): A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.

VERSE: Matthew 7:3

NIV: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye …”

TNIV: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye …”

NIV (2011): “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

VERSE: John 14:23

NIV: If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

TNIV (2005): Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

NIV (2011): Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

VERSE: Acts 20:30

NIV: Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

TNIV (2005): Even from your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

NIV (2011): Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

VERSE: 1 Corinthians 15:21

NIV: For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

TNIV: For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being

NIV (2011): For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

As you can see, a lot of the TNIV’s most egregious translations have been corrected. For example, it’s irresponsible for the TNIV to use “parent” instead of “father” in Proverbs 13:1. Both grammatically and contextually, “father” (not “father and mother” or “parent”) is the proper translation. This is ancient Israel, not 21st century America. Likewise, Acts 20:30 should be reflective of the male leadership (elders) at the time. In another example, 1 Corinthians 15:21, the TNIV loses the Christ-Adam parallel by replacing “man” with “human being,” thus distorting Paul’s redemptive-historical train of thought. In these instances, the new NIV rightly continues with the original NIV’s translation. However, in John 14:23, both the TNIV and the new NIV replace the personal “him” with a general “them.” This may not be as important as the other examples, but I prefer to know whether a personal or general reference is being used. Jesus is using the personal, “him,” which functions differently as a means of exhortation. Moreover, “they” or “them” diverts the attention away from individual indwelling (the point of the text) to corporate indwelling (which is taught elsewhere but not here).  I wish the new NIV had retained the original NIV in this example.

The best example of a textual update/revision is the ever-controversial Romans 3:21-22. I’m really happy with the new NIV’s rendering. Like the TNIV, the new NIV changes the original NIV’s “a righteousness from God” to “the righteousness of God.” On this point, N. T. Wright is correct. However, “through faith in Jesus Christ” is retained, with “through the faithfulness of” in a footnote — also a good choice.

It may be too early to say, but I’m mostly pleased with what I’ve seen in the new NIV. I wish John 14:23 had retained the singular reference, but no translation is perfect.

UPDATE

I just noticed that the new NIV uses “flesh” for sarx, instead of “sinful nature.” See, for example, Romans 8:3-4. This will greatly help the NIV’s case for being a translation suitable for scholarship. The NASB, ESV, and NRSV all use “flesh.” No other term can substitute without sacrificing the embodied aspect of sin and, thereby, important implications for Christology and atonement.

There’s no better way to contemplate your mortality than with this week’s excellent episode of Pipedreams. I especially enjoyed Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on the Bare Mountain during the second hour of the program. Happy Halloween!

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