TE Keister’s Reply to TE Moon’s Defense of TE Lawrence – Part 3

Posted by Wes White

II. Exegetical Arguments

A. TE Moon argues (p. 2) that TE Lawrence’s view of the term is in accord with the NT understanding of the term “Christian.” However, the context of each of the three uses of the term in the NT does not support this claim, which depends on baptism being the marker or identifier of who is a Christian. The first instance of its use is Acts 11:26. Baptism is nowhere mentioned in the context, but believing and turning to the Lord certainly is (vs. 21). They were marked by their beliefs, primarily. At the very least, if baptism was supposed to be the marker of the Christian, it should have been present in this context, and yet it is absent. If a Christian is one who identifies with Christ, then in this passage the way one is identified with Christ is if a person believed and turned to the Lord. This is very similar to the common way of using “Christian” today to refer to someone who believes in Christ. The second occurrence of this word is even stronger against TE Moon’s assertion. The context is Paul’s defense before King Agrippa. Paul gives a detailed defense of what he believes. In short, he preached the Word to King Agrippa. King Agrippa responds eventually by saying, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28). King Agrippa was obviously thinking that Paul intended to persuade by his words, not by baptism. At the very least, in King Agrippa’s mind, to be a Christian was to believe what Paul said about the Christ. The means of becoming one, for King Agrippa, was persuasion by words. The last instance of the word occurs in 1 Peter 4:16. In my opinion, this verse does not point in any particular way, except that it is contrasted with “murderer, thief, evildoer, and meddler” (vs. 15). In this context, therefore, it is primarily what a Christian does that is marking him out for persecution, since he is not doing any of those wrong things. The passage is not really about how one becomes a Christian. The context is certainly delimited by the closing “Amen” of verse 11. Therefore, verse 12 starts a new subject. This is why the end of chapter 3 would not be pertinent to the discussion, as it is not in the immediate context. The conclusion of this study of the contexts of the three occurrences of “Christian” in the New Testament point rather strongly against TE Moon’s assertion that the “Christian” was deemed so by baptism. So, the issue is not whether “Christian” means “elect,” but rather whether “Christian” means “believer.” I would argue that it means the latter. And a true believer is one of the elect.

The next section will take quite some time to unpack, since TE Lawrence quotes a variety of Scriptures to prove his point, and TE Moon simply asserts that TE Lawrence’s statement is a paraphrase of Scripture. As a result, we must exegete every single one of these passages to prove that they do not advocate undifferentiated benefits given to the elect and the non-elect in baptism.

B. First up is Matthew 28:18-20, which is said by TE Lawrence to be a proof text for the assertion, “Baptism is the initiatory rite by which we are united to christ and thus granted new life.” It is difficult to see how union with Christ language is even present in the Great Commission. No doubt TE Lawrence interprets the participial clause “baptizing them” to be explanatory of “make disciples.” However, there are two participial clauses that modify “make disciples” in this context. Baptizing is one of those clauses, but in verse 20, we see that “teaching them to observe” is parallel with “baptizing them.” So, making disciples, or, literally, “discipling all the nations” has to do with two things, not just one. It has to do with baptizing and teaching. In any case, union with Christ is not present in the passage. Being a disciple is present. But being a disciple means being baptized and being taught. The baptism is not defined in relation to union with Christ in this passage. Neither is new life present in this passage. So, this passage cannot be used to buttress the claim that baptism gives new life and union with Christ.

C. The second passage quoted is Titus 3:5. The text itself is complicated and fraught with exegetical difficulties. Basically, the question can be boiled down to this: what does “laver, or washing of regeneration” mean? Several commentators argue that the primary meaning is a spiritual washing (see  Towner, 781; Marshall, 318; Mounce, 448; and Knight, 350). These commentators do not deny an allusion to baptism. However, the primary reference for them is to a spiritual cleansing of regeneration, which is invisible, a visible sign of which we receive in baptism. This is also the position of Calvin (pp. 332-334). Calvin carefully distinguishes between sign and thing signified even while connecting them together. What belongs to the sign stays with the sign (p. 333), and what belongs to the Spirit belongs to the Spirit. He states categorically that wicked men are neither washed nor renewed by baptism, even if the grace is offered to them. This is a far cry from what TE Lawrence is claiming. Also, it has been objected that discussing the distinction between sign and thing signified in relation to various passages is not exegetically helpful. Calvin, then, must be terribly unhelpful on page 334 of his commentary, when he claims that verse 6 refers not to the sign, but rather of the thing signified, in which the truth of the sign exists. Let me repeat, the distinction between sign and thing signified was not viewed by Calvin as relevant only to the concerns about Roman Catholics and Lutherans. He clearly saw the distinction as an exegetically helpful category for explaining the text. Calvin, then, is saying that the efficacy of baptism applies only to the elect (p. 333), and that wicked men get nothing good out of baptism. In fact, the efficacy of baptism towards the non-elect is said to be retained only in the hand of God who offers grace. That grace never reaches the non-elect. And, as we will see in Calvin’s comments on Romans 6, the efficacy is tied to Spirit-wrought faith.

D. The third passage quoted is Romans 6:3-4. Several key points are raised by TE Moon in this section (p. 4). First of all, TE Moon makes the claim that if the accusers are correct, then Paul should not have spoken the way he did about the instrumentality of baptism. Secondly, TE Moon argues that the distinction between sign and thing signified primarily relates to arguments that the Reformed have had with Catholic and Lutheran theology, and that such a distinction should not be used as a hermeneutical tool to understand Romans 6, at least not if it is used to say that Paul is not speaking of water baptism. If such a claim were made, says TE Moon, it would come near to violating what the Confession says about sacramental union, and the nature of how sacramental language can function. Lastly, he says that TE Lawrence was asked to divorce the sign from the thing signified. Let’s take these in order.

Firstly, how does Paul speak in Romans 6? One really cannot do better than John Calvin at this point. I, for one, do not believe that the rite of baptism is absent from Romans 6. Therefore, TE Moon’s rhetoric concerning the violation of every exegetical rule does not apply (although I think his comment is still off-base, as there are several well-respected scholars who do not hold that water baptism is in view at all, Lloyd-Jones being one of them. We would not want to accuse Lloyd-Jones of thereby violating every exegetical rule. Nor would such a position violate the Standards on the union of sign and thing signified, since one can legitimately speak of the sign or the thing signified without automatically including the other). Notice Calvin’s careful balance and qualifications:

For Paul, according to his usual manner, where he speaks of the faithful, connects the reality and the effect with the outward sign; for we know that whatever the Lord offers by the visible symbol is confirmed and ratified by their faith. In short, he teaches what is the real character of baptism when rightly received. So he testifies to the Galatians, that all who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Gal iii.27.) Thus indeed must we speak, as long as the institution of the Lord and the faith of the godly unite together; for we never have naked and empty symbols, except when our ingratitude and wickedness hinder the working of divine beneficence (emphasis added, p. 221 of his commentary on Romans, which is on Romans 6:4).

Notice here that baptism can be an empty and naked sign. It happens when ingratitude and wickedness prevent the thing signified from being present.

It is possible to err on two sides on this question of how Paul speaks. The first is to say that Paul refers only to water baptism in Romans 6. The other error to say that Paul refers only to what baptism signifies (though, as I said earlier, this hardly breaks every exegetical rule). For now, we need to explore the former error. If one says that Paul is only speaking of water baptism, then one might also be tempted to say that everything Paul describes happens at water baptism. But if Paul does not have only water baptism in view, but the entire sacrament (sign, thing signified, and Spiritual relation of the two), then nothing concerning the time point of when the thing signified comes to pass may be inferred from this passage. Paul is talking about the whole picture of baptism. He is not talking only about water baptism. This means that we cannot say when the thing signified comes to a person. Romans 6 presupposes Romans 4-5, as several authors have noted (see Shedd, pp. 150-152 of his Romans commentary, and Moo, p. 366, quoting Dunn, who seems to have this issue right, even if he is off on other things, although he seems to have backed off from his earlier position in his later commentary). If the thing signified came at the same time as the sign, then Romans 4-5 would make no sense in the flow of Paul’s argument, since the whole argument is that we have been freed from sin’s guilt by justification by faith alone. Abraham’s example in Romans 4 is conclusive on this point, since Paul pointedly reminds us in Romans 4:10 that justification happened before circumcision. The remainder of the passage hints that those who come to faith after circumcision are also the children of Abraham (v. 12). However, if all these benefits come to a person simply by virtue of the water rite (as TE Lawrence explicitly claims), then such a theology must narrowly tie faith down in the point of its inception to the moment of baptism. Otherwise, no sense at all could be made of Romans 4-5, which explicitly ties saving benefits to faith, and not to baptism.

E. The fourth passage adduced by TE Lawrence is Ephesians 4:4-6. TE Lawrence claims that this passage proves that baptism brings a person into the fellowship of the church. However, the items in a series, which strongly emphasize the oneness of the church, are not causally related to each other. They are simply items in a series: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.  How these things relate is not developed in Ephesians 4. Now, we do believe that baptism brings one into the visible church (as WCF 28.1 says). However, notice that the Westminster divines were very careful to summarize the Bible’s teaching on this as the “visible” church. They do not say that baptism gives the benefits it signs and seals, thus making a person a member of the invisible church. Of course, the minute such a distinction is made, the objection usually arises that this distinction bifurcates the church into two. It does not. There is a visible aspect and an invisible aspect to the church. There are distinct properties to each aspect. Both aspects put together constitute the church in the largest sense of the term.

F. Brief Excursus on the language of “sign and seal.”

1. A brief digression is necessary here in order to deal with the language of “sign” and “seal.” With regard to the language of “sign,” and analogy is helpful. Suppose a person is wandering around in his car, looking for Bismarck. He doesn’t really know where he is or where he is going. However, then he runs across a sign that says “Bismarck 22 miles.” He can then infer from this sign that if he continues on that road another 22 miles, he will be in Bismarck. The sign is no empty sign, for it points in the right direction. One would not expect to continue 22 miles in that direction, after having seen that sign, only to arrive in Minneapolis. However, it is easy to see that the sign is not Bismarck itself. One could extend the analogy to say that the spiritual relation between the two is the road connecting the sign with the city. One may choose not to go to Bismarck after all, in which case one does not get the thing signified. Seeing the sign does not give one access to the city. But when one comes to Bismarck, one is assured that he is there, because he remembers the sign that he saw. Similarly, if he had already been in Bismarck, and was leaving, but couldn’t quite remember what city it was he had just passed through, he could theoretically look at the sign backwards as he passed, and would be confirmed in his belief that it was Bismarck he had just been in. So the thing signified could come before, during, or after the sign. We must not tie down the thing signified to the time of the sign. Otherwise, we put God’s grace in a very small box indeed, and ascribe too much to the sign.

2. The language of “seal” is a bit trickier, since it sounds more efficacious. However, the language of seal functions very similarly, although we must use a different analogy. A letter from a king needed to have a confirmation that it was from the king. Therefore, there was wax that was used in connection with a signet ring to put a particular stamp upon the wax. This would guarantee to the reader that the message inside the letter was genuinely from the king. But the seal is not the letter itself. The letter could very well exist without the seal, although that would be unusual. Nor does a seal deliver the letter to anyone. What the seal says is that the letter is genuine to anyone who reads the letter. In the same way, baptism functions as a seal for our faith. It is faith that is the letter, faith that God gives us in order that we might be justified, sanctified, etc. When the letter is opened is not set at the time that the seal is placed on the letter. The letter might be opened later. One might already have the letter opened, and the king places his seal upon it afterward in order to confirm its genuineness. So the analogy works well whether faith comes before or after baptism. But someone who does not open the letter can see that the wax is genuine, but does not have the substance of the letter in his possession, and thus indeed does possess an empty sign, as Calvin noted above.

G. A fifth passage that TE Lawrence adduces is Galatians 3:26-27, which he argues proves that baptism brings one into fellowship with Christ and also brings adoption as sons of God. However, the text explicitly states that everyone who is a son of God is a son of God through faith (vs 26), not through baptism. The “for” in verse 27 does not explain something that is epexegetical to verse 26. Rather, verse 27 describes the sign, the reason they may have assurance that they are the sons of God. And the thing signified is here viewed as connected with the sign for those who have what verse 26 says. Again, Calvin is helpful and worth quoting at length, for his insight into the two ways Paul speaks (this is from his commentary on the passage):

But the argument, that, because they have been baptized, they have put on Christ, appears weak; for how far is baptism from being efficacious in all? Is it reasonable that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so closely linked to an external symbol? Does not the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as well as experience, appear to confute this statement? I answer, it is customary with Paul to treat of the sacraments in two points of view. When he is dealing with hypocrites, in whom the mere symbol awakens pride, he then proclaims loudly the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol, and denounces, in strong terms, their foolish confidence. In such cases he contemplates not the ordinance of God, but the corruption of wicked men. When, on the other hand, he addresses believers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he then views them in connexion with the truth- which they represent. In this case, he makes no boast of any false splendour as belonging to the sacraments, but calls our attention to the actual fact represented by the outward ceremony. Thus, agreeably to the Divine appointment, the truth comes to be associated with the symbols.

But perhaps some person will ask, Is it then possible that, through the fault of men, a sacrament shall cease to bear a figurative meaning? The reply is easy. Though wicked men may derive no advantage from the sacraments, they still retain undiminised their nature and force. The sacraments present, both to good and to bad men, the grace of God. No falsehood attaches to the promises which they exhibit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Believers receive what is offered; and if wicked men, by rejecting it, render the offer unprofitable to themselves, their conduct cannot destroy the faithfulness of God, or the true meaning of the sacrament…(after quoting Romans 6:5, LK) In this way, the symbol and the Divine operation are kept distinct, and yet the meaning of the sacraments is manifest; so that they cannot be regarded as empty and trivial exhibitions (emphasis added, pp. 111-112 of Calvin’s Galatians commentary).

Calvin’s sermons are even more plain on this matter:

Baptism then maketh us not all Christians, and again we know, that to be made the child of God, is too great a benefit to be fathered upon a corruptible element (Sermons, p. 484).

And again:

But first of all let us mark here, that when Saint Paul speaketh of Baptism, he presupposeth that we receive the thing that is offered unto us in it. Many that are baptized do wipe away the grace of God: and notwithstanding that it be offered them, yet they make themselves unworthy of ir through their unbelief, lewdness, and rebellion. Thus ye see that the power of baptism is defeated in many men. But when there happeneth a mutual agreement and melody between God and us: then has baptism the effect whereof Saint Paul treateth and discourseth in this text (Sermons, p. 485).

Peter Barnes, in his excellent recent commentary on Galatians (p. 178), says much the same:

Surely, Paul is referring to water baptism. It is true that external baptism does not unite us to Christ. Paul is hardly saying that the rite of circumcision does not save or add to savlation, but the rite of baptism does! As John Stott puts it, “Faith secures the union; baptism signifies it outwardly and visibly.”

Plainly the views of Calvin and Barnes are not the views of TE Lawrence or of TE Moon. For TE’s Moon and Lawrence plainly say that even wicked men gain at least some advantage from the sacrament, even if it is a lesser version than what the elect receive (although such a two-tiered reception of the benefits of baptism is certainly nowhere taught in Scripture). Again, Calvin says that there is nothing signified present unless the sacrament be received in faith. Calvin says that wicked men gain no advantage from the sacrament whatsoever. Only believers get the thing signified, and they have to be believers (meaning that they must have true faith) to receive those benefits. Calvin says that baptism does not make us Christians, whereas TE Lawrence says that it does make us Christians. Calvin says, in effect, that a person is a Christian when sign and thing signified are both present. TE Lawrence says, in effect, that it comes in the water rite regardless of faith, or that faith itself comes in the water rite.

H. A sixth passage is Leviticus 8-9. It is difficult to know how TE Lawrence applies this to baptism and the benefits surrounding baptism. He says that it proves that a baptized person is brought into the fellowship of the church. I will be content on this passage simply to say that more work would need to be done on TE Lawrence’s part to prove his case. The consecration of Aaron and his sons might have relevance to one of the possible modes of baptism (sprinkling), but it is difficult to see how it relates to the efficacy of baptism, especially when circumcision would seem a much more direct place to go in the Old Testament for the theology of baptism.

I. A seventh passage is 1 Corinthians 12:13. Again, this passage is referenced by TE Lawrence to prove that baptism brings a person into the fellowship of the body, the church. The statement is vague in and of itself. It is true that baptism is a sign of joining the visible church, as has been said before. However, this passage is not talking about water baptism. Charles Hodge notes that water baptism and Spirit baptism are clearly distinguished in Matthew 3:11, John 1:33, Acts 1:5. He says further:

It is not denied that the one is sacramentally connected with the other; or that the baptism of the Spirit often attends the baptism of water; but they are not inseparably connected. The one may be without the other. And in the present passage there does not seem to be even an allusion to water baptism, and more than in Acts 1:5. Paul does not say that we are made one body by baptism, but by the baptism of the Holy Ghost; that is, by spiritual regeneration. Any communication of the Holy Spirit is called a baptism, because the Spirit is said to be poured out (p. 254 of his commentary).

Notice especially those important words about any outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We must not make the word-concept fallacy: that just because a word is present, that therefore a particular concept must be present. Just because the word “baptism” is present does not mean that water baptism is present. Peter  Naylor, in his recent commentary on the epistle, also does not believe that water baptism is referred to here. His argument is that if water baptism was meant, Paul would left out the qualifying phrase “in the Spirit” (p. 327). There is, however, a very recent commentary with whom the views of Moon and Lawrence agree. He writes this:

This verse is one of the fundamental Pauline texts that teach the incorporation of baptized believers into Christ.

The author is Joseph Fitzmyer, a Roman Catholic theologian (see p. 478 of his commentary).

J. The eighth passage referenced is 1 Corinthians 6:11, which does not have the word “baptized” in it. Now this does not mean that baptism is automatically excluded (otherwise we would be committing the word-concept fallacy described above). However, the verb “washed” is not usually connected with baptism in the New Testament (see Fee, p. 246). The phrase “in the name of Jesus Christ” refers to all three verbs (wash, sanctify, and justify, all in the aorist tense), not just to washing. Furthermore, the preposition “en” is not Paul’s usual preposition to use when saying “baptize into the name of.” That verb is usually “eis.” It is more likely that Paul has in mind an inward washing from the guilt and power of the sins mentioned in the previous verses. Certainly, this verse does NOT say that baptism cleanses us from our sins, as TE Lawrence claims it says. The commentaries of Naylor (p. 144), Barrett (p. 141, who acknowledges an indirect reference to baptism, but says that it is “the inward meaning rather than the outward circumstances of the rite that is important to Paul”), Hodge (p. 100), and Thiselton (pp. 453-455 for a very nuanced version of what Barrett also said) also bear this out. Calvin says that the term “washing” is metaphorical, Christ’s blood being likened to water. But Calvin nowhere mentions baptism in connection with this text.

To be continued…

Posted by Wes White

At Least Kissing Cousins

By TE Reed DePace

It is not fair to say that the Federal Vision is Arminianism. That is, the FV is not simply an expression of Arminian doctrine. Nor is it fair to say that the FV is a child of Arminianism. The FV arguments do not grow out of Arminian formulations. Nor, do I think, we can say that the FV is even a sibling of Arminianism. The FV does not end up proposing simply a variation of Arminianism.

Yet many critics have noted that the Federal Vision and Arminianism share some characteristics. In the past I believe I even may have used the phrase “sibling” to try to describe how close these similarities run. After some more thinking about this, I do find myself sympathetic to FV supporters who take offense at such comparisons. And I do regret and repent of any over statements on my part. I’ve not intended to offer rhetorical offense for the sake of making a point. To whatever degree my words in the past have lent themselves to that end, I am sorry.

Still, I do see the similarities between the Federal Vision and Arminianism. I do wish FV supporters would take seriously such concerns, and not react in theological horror at being associated with a form of doctrine we all agree is defective at best. In an effort to help FV supporters at least appreciate the concern here, I want to make a few observations.

The Federal Vision in effect proposes that the Church has before it a two-dimensional scheme, one decretal and the other covenantal. Without trying to work out all the existential niceties, the FV understands the decretal dimension to be that of God’s existence. It has real substance in reality in that it is real spiritually. Yet this dimension by its nature is objectively unknowable. That is, it cannot be known through the use of ordinary natural senses.

The FV understands the covenantal dimension to be that of the Church’s existence. It too has real substance in reality in that it is real materially. This dimension is objectively knowable, in that it is the dimension of ordinary natural experience.

Both these dimensions, according to the FV, have their own expression of the ordo salutis. These are not to be understood as the same, although they are essentially analogous (perseverance not being a part of the covenantal dimension). Both of these ordo saluti are ministries of the Holy Spirit. Both are to be understood as having real substance, albeit in their own dimension.

The critical difference between these ordo saluti in their respective dimensions is one of permanence. The decretal dimension offers an ordo salutis that is eternal, never to be lost. The covenantal dimension offers an ordo salutis that is transitory, potentially losable.

It is in this that we see the key comparison to Arminianism. From the decretal dimension, FV supporters rightly maintain that the FV is not Arminian(-like). The FV is clear that only the elect partake of the reality of the decretal dimension, and that this can never be lost.

However, with regard to the covenantal dimension this is not the case. The ordo salutis in this dimension can be lost (albeit only by the reprobate). And this is effectively the same thing that is said by Arminianism.

So, from the viewpoint of the decretal dimension, the FV is not Arminian(-like) at all. Yet from the viewpoint of the covenantal dimension, the FV proposes a system of salvation that is effectively the same as Arminianism. They may not be structured exactly the same, but they share the same essential “losable” characteristic. In the FV scheme of things, the Spirit ministers an eternally secure decretal ordo salutis to the elect and He ministers a losable covenantal salutis to the reprobate.

This two-dimensional scheme might be nothing more than cumbersome if it were not for the FV’s insistence that the decretal dimension is largely irrelevant to the professing believer’s day to day life. Objectively unknowable, the decretal dimension offers some vague assurances. Yet if one wants a real grip on assurance, according to the FV, one needs to look at his experience of the covenantal ordo salutis (e.g., his participation in the baptism ritual, and/or his day to day faithfulness-obedience.) In that this covenantal dimension is not really secure, this is a weak basis for assurance at best.

So no, the Federal Vision and Arminianism are not members of the same immediately family. To maintain this is to overspeak. But these systems do share a significant similarity, one that is dominant in their ministry of the gospel. Thus, maybe it is better to call the Federal Vision and Arminianism kissing cousins.

By TE Reed DePace

TE Keister’s Reply to TE Moon’s Defense of TE Lawrence – Part 2

Posted by Wes White

You can read the first part of Lane’s reply here.

F. Next up is Heinrich Bullinger. He says:

For to whomever the Lord promises that he will be their God, and whomever he receives and acknowledges for his, those no man without horrible offense may exclude from the number of the faithful. And God promises that he will not only be the God of them that confess him, but of infants also; he promises to them[I.e. the infants of believers] his grace and remission of sins. Who, therefore, gainsaying the Lord of all things, will yet deny that infants belong to God, are his, and that they are made partakers of purification through Christ? (emphasis and explanation TE Moon, p. 383 of Decade 5).

The quotation does not prove that the infant gets grace and remission of sins through baptism. In fact, when Bullinger tells us how the child gets purification, he says that it is through Christ, not through baptism. This detail seems to have escaped TE Moon’s notice entirely, especially since it is in a section he italicized. Though this one quotation does not at all support TE Moon’s contention, Bullinger must be understood in the entirety of his teaching, not just in one quotation. Bullinger elsewhere says this:

Therefore in baptism, water, or sprinkling of water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and all that which is done of the church, is a sign, rite, ceremony, and outward thing, earthly and sensible, lying open and made plain to the senses: but remission of sins, partaking of (everlasting) life, fellowship with Christ and his members, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are given unto us by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus, is the thing signified, the inward and heavenly thing, and that intelligible thing which is not perceived but by a faithful mind (Decade 5, p. 250).

And then, proving that the unbelievers do not get anything through the sacraments, Bullinger says:

That each part (the sign and the thing signified, LK) retaineth their natures distinguished, without communicating or mingling of properties, it is to be seen hereby; that many be partakers of the sign, and yet are barred from the thing signified. But if the natures of the parts were united or naturally knit together, it must needs be then, that those which be partakers of the signs must be partakers also of the thing signified. Examples of scripture, as they are ready, so are they evident. For Simon Magus, in the Acts of the Apostles, received the sign, and was baptized: but of the thing signified he had not neither received so much as one iota (emphasis added, Decades 5, p. 271).

And again, later:

For so it cometh to pass, that many receive the visible sacraments, and yet are not partakers of the invisible grace, which by faith only is received (Decades 5, p. 273).

This is clearly not the position of TE Moon and TE Lawrence, who believe that baptism is always efficacious to give at least something to the receiver. TE Moon says that that Bullinger knows that, in the end, only the elect will have final and true enjoyment of those things (p. 6). However, Bullinger says that it is the elect, and only the elect, who enjoy any part of the blessings of the sacraments. The non-elect receive no benefit, not one iota, from the sacrament. Indeed, Bullinger is emphatic on this point.

Further, even in the part quoted by TE Moon, Bullinger says that Godpromises remission of sins. Bullinger stops short of saying that God givesremission of sins in baptism.

G. The next quotation is from the Belgic Confession.

Christ shed his blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons; and, therefore, they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ hath done for them (from article 34, translation Schaff’s).

One does not even need to go outside the quotation itself to refute TE Moon’s reading of it. TE Moon simply quotes it, and does not argue the point specifically. However, as was said before, there is no disagreement over whether children can be saved, regenerated, etc. But the Belgic Confession does not say that that comes at the water rite. In fact, it says the opposite: the force of the “therefore” in the middle of the quotation shows that it because saving realities can already exist in infants, that therefore they ought to be baptized, plainly indicating that, in these cases, the thing signified already existed in their lives. Plainly, it does not come by baptism. And again, when one examines the context of the Belgic Confession, and sees what it says concerning sacraments in general, one can see the difference:

From article 33: For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost.

It should be noted here that the thing “by means whereof” refers to the inward and invisible thing, as is evident by the phraseology of “God workethin us.”

And from article 34: as water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him, so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath unto children of God. Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God. (emphasis added).

The Belgic Confession does not nail down the time at which this internal sprinkling occurs. It certainly does not say that it happens at the same time as the outward sprinkling. It merely says that there is an analogy between the inward and the outward sprinkling.

H. Next up is the Scotch Confession.

We are fully persuaded that, by means of baptism we are engrafted into Christ, made partakers of his righteousness, through which our sins are covered, and on account of which kindness and grace are purchased (translation TE Moon’s).

TE Moon argues that the phrase “by means of baptism” (per baptismum) is clearly instrumental (p. 6, footnote 11). On the surface, this quotation does not seem to be taken out of context. And this statement is not immediately qualified as all the others have been. However, there are still statements in the Scotch Confession and in the other works of John Knox that help explain. In the end, we will see that even the Scotch Confession does not say what TE Moon thinks it says. First of all, the Confession says this about Sacraments in general (I am translating the Scottish brogue into more contemporary English):

And their Sacraments, as well of Old as of New Testament, now instituted by God, not only to make a visible difference betwixt his people and they that was without his league: but also to exercise the faith of his Children, and, by participation of the same Sacraments, to seal in their hearts the assurance of his promise, and of that most blessed conjunction, union and society, which the elect have with their head Christ Jesus (emphasis added, p. 467 of Schaff).

This is the definition of what the Sacraments are for, and should be allowed to qualify the statements following concerning what Baptism does. In other words, the instrumental nature of Baptism is only true for the elect, and the instrumental sense is applied only to assurance.

The instrumental nature of baptism is not defined in the Scotch Confession. However, John Knox elsewhere qualifies his statements in exactly the same way all the others we have seen so far have done.

In 1556, 4 years before the Scotch Confession was published, Knox has this to say about baptism (again translating the brogue):

We have some respect also, that no more be given to the external sign, than is proper to it, that is, that it be the seal of justice and the sign of regeneration, but neither the cause, neither yet the effect or virtue…Baptism is the sign of our first entrance in the household of God our Father, by the which issignified that we are received in league with him, that we are clad with Christ’s justice, our sins and filthiness being washed away in His blood (emphasis added, volume 4 of the Works of John Knox, “Answers to Some Questions Concerning Baptism,” pp. 122-123).[1]

Secondly, in 1561, just one year after he wrote the Scotch Confession, he penned these words:

Albeit that the Sacraments are pledges to assure us of the grace of God, yet I Confess that they were unprofitable, except the Holy Ghost should make them effectual in us as instruments, to the intent that our faith should not be distracted from God, and stay upon creatures. Also, I Confess that the Sacraments are depraved and corrupt, when they are not referred to this end, to seek in Jesus Christ all that appertaineth to our salvation, and when they are applied to any other use than that our faith thereby should be wholly confirmed toward him (emphasis added, p. 366 of volume 5, in Additional Prayers for the Scholars of Geneva).

It should be noted that the same instrumental language is present here as is present in the Scotch Confession. To seek in Jesus Christ everything concerning salvation and that our faith should be wholly confirmed toward him, those are the only two proper uses of the sacrament, for John Knox. So the instrumental language of the Scotch Confession is explained here.

I. The Calvin quotation on the bottom of page 6 is possibly the most egregiously misunderstood passage of them all.

Baptism, must…be preceded by the gift of adoption, which is not the cause of half salvation merely, but gives salvation entire; and this salvation is afterwards ratified by Baptism.

Firstly, Calvin explicitly says within the quotation itself that salvation isafterwards ratified by baptism. Secondly, and more importantly, the relative pronoun “which” in the first line does not refer to baptism. Indeed, it cannot, for “baptismum” is neuter singular accusative, whereas “quae” is feminine singular nominative, agreeing with “gratia,” not with “baptismum.” Therefore, it is adoption which gives salvation entire, not baptism.[2]

J. Next comes a series of theologians that TE Moon thinks is adequately covered in Schenk’s book, The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant. The names dropped are Hodge, Warfield, and Lymond Atwater, and others. Hodge is dealt with below. But we must attend to Warfield and Atwater. Warfield’s doctrine of baptismal efficacy is stated in his article entitled “Christian Baptism,” found in volume 1 of his Shorter Writings (pp. 325-331). He is clear that baptism is a sign and seal of various salvific benefits, and is not those benefits themselves (p. 325). Furthermore, at no place does Warfield claim that salvific benefits come in baptism. Rather, he constantly uses the language of sign and seal (even using the letter analogy on page 327 that I used above). He says, “By receiving it, we do make claim to be members of Christ” (ibid). He does not say “By receiving it, we are made members of Christ.” Now, the claim is not all that baptism does, for Warfield. It is also a sign and seal of benefits. But he never says that baptism conveysthose benefits. It witnesses to God’s engagement and testimony to procure our salvation (ibid). Dr. Atwater believed in presumptive membership in the invisible church for infants of believers (Schenk, p. 131). But this is not the same thing as saying that salvific benefits come in baptism.

K. Charles Hodge is next on the list:

Since the promise is not only to parents but to their seed, children are by the command of God to be regarded and treated as of the number of the elect (“The Church Membership of Infants,” Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review 30.2 (1858), pp. 375-376.

The quotation isn’t even relevant to the question of what baptism does. Hodge’s point is that infants can be said to be members of the church (and this is true regardless of whether they are baptized or not!). Furthermore, elsewhere in the article, he specifically states the opposite of the position of TE Moon and TE Lawrence:

The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is not only repudiated by all the Reformed Confessions, but, what perhaps, will to many minds be more convincing, it is impossible to reconcile the doctrine with their theology. Every one knows that the Reformed Churches adopted the theological system of Augustin. They all taught that none are born of the Spirit but those who are finally saved. If a man is called (regenerated,) he is justified; and if justified, he is glorified. There is no such thing, according to their doctrine, as falling from grace. If the Reformed therefore believed that all who are baptized are vitally united to Christ, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost, then they held that all the baptized are saved. They assuredly did not hold the latter, and therefore it is no less certain that they did not hold the former. It is impossible for a man to be a Calvinist, and believe the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (pp. 382-383).

L. Two final quotations (pp. 10-11), which TE Moon mangles out of all recognition.

The first is by Charles Hodge.

He stands in a peculiar [unique or special] relation to God, as being included in his covenant and baptized in his name; that he has in virtue of that relation a right to claim God as his Father, Christ as his Saviour, and the Holy Ghost as his sanctifier; and assured that God will recognize that claim and receive him as his child, if he is faithful to his baptismal vows (Essays and Reviews, p. 310).

In analyzing this quotation, TE Moon says:

Here we have nothing more than a summary of the position of TE Lawrence on the matters deemed heterodox by the majority: the language of adoption, salvation and forgiveness, and even the new life of the Spirit, all with the call to be faithful to one’s baptismal vows. This in Hodge is true adoption: it is preposterous to think that anyone has the right to call God his Father unless it is true. It may not be final, absolute adoption (Hodge knows that and so does TE Lawrence). But it must in some way be true, or they have no such right. And that applies to calling Christ their Savior, and the Holy Ghost their sanctifier (emphasis original).

In answer to TE Moon’s claims, it need only be pointed out that the relation to God is the foundation of the right to claim God as his Father. And that secondly, baptism, if anything, gives a person a right to claim God as Father, but does not actually effect that relationship. Such an interpretation is simply not responsible to what Charles Hodge said, either here, or elsewhere, as we have seen above. But the mangling has to do with an implied caricature of the committee’s position again, for the call to be faithful to one’s baptismal vows is a confessional matter, as is the language of adoption, salvation, and forgiveness. But such is not attributed by Hodge to baptism, but to the relation a person has with God, which is signified by baptism, but not effected by it.

M. Lastly, the Rev. George Mair’s position is my own. TE Moon summarizes Mair’s position, saying:

Thomas Boston remarks that his friend, the Rev. George Mair, taught that baptism seals all members of the visible Church to have a right to Christ and the benefits of the covenant (p. 11).

I believe that baptism seals all members of the visible church to have a right to Christ and the benefits of the covenant. Having a right to those things doesn’t mean that one has them, especially not simply by virtue of baptism. So Rev. George Mair is not saying the same thing as TE Lawrence or Moon.


[1] The six volume Works of John Knox are available on http://books.google.com/.

[2] As this particular volume of Corpus Reformatorum is available online, there is no reason TE Moon could not have checked the original Latin. At best, the English translation has an ambiguous “which.” But the qualifying statement at the end is still clear: adoption, which gives salvation entire,precedes baptism, and is ratified by baptism. In this particular quotation, there seems to be a definite reading comprehension problem on the part of TE Moon. Now, it is possible that TE Moon understands this passage simply to be talking about the fact that children get adoption and salvation. His words are: “Here is Calvin speaking of our covenant children as adopted and given salvation, which is sealed in baptism” (p. 6). Then follows the quotation. But if this is so, then it is not clear why he brought this passage into the discussion at all. At any rate, Calvin is certainly not saying that these things come by baptism. Rather, he is saying that they are ratified by baptism. Either way, the passage does not help TE Moon’s case in any way whatsoever.

TE Keister’s Reply to TE Moon’s Defense of TE Lawrence (Part 1)

-Posted by Wes White

Since Lane is going to be on vacation, I’ve offered to post some things for him.  I’m going to post in several parts his reply to TE Moon.   TE Moon’s speech/paper was given at the 87th Stated Meeting of Presbytery in the context of debates about an investigative report on TE Lawrence.  It consists of two main parts.  The first part deals with historical arguments.  The second part deals with exegetical arguments.  I plan on posting it in five parts.  Here is the first.

An Answer to TE Josh Moon’s Report on the Views of TE Greg Lawrence

A combination of factors will show that TE Moon’s arguments are without foundation at almost every point. These factors include faulty logic, faulty exegesis, and blatant misreading of the Reformed sources, none of which support his claim. His claim can be summarized thus: TE Lawrence’s views are in accord with Scripture, in accord with the confession, and in accord with significant strands of Reformed authors who have written on these topics throughout history, and that, therefore, to find a strong presumption of guilt concerning TE Lawrence’s teaching would disenfranchize many Reformed theologians, many Reformed confessions, and even parts of the Scripture itself. Our method will be to examine the historical arguments TE Moon sets forth, followed by the exegetical arguments.

I. Historical arguments

A. TE Moon starts out with a discussion of the controversy of Bavinck and Kuyper concerning presumptive regeneration. He argues that the issues were similar: “the place of children in the covenant, the efficacy of baptism, what it means for baptism to seal or be a means of salvation” (p. 1). He further argues that Bavinck himself describes the opposing views as being within the bounds of orthodoxy. However, the issue with Bavinck and Kuyper is not the same as is before us today. Bavinck and Kuyper were disputing the notion of presumptive regeneration, not what happens at baptism. Consider the following quote (from Hillenius) in the very near context to what TE Moon quoted in Saved By Grace:

As far as the time of regeneration is concerned, that is quite varied. The papists teach that it occurs in baptism, since they desire that baptism itself effects regeneration by virtue of the act performed, but we will not pause to refute that erroneous view.

Then Bavinck goes on to say, “The view which identifies the moment of regeneration as the moment one is baptized is a claim that the Holy Scripture nowhere teaches us, but on the contrary, Scriptures teaches us about several people who were regenerated already before baptism, such as Paul…” (pp. 88-89 of Saved By Grace). Consider also Bavinck’s claim concerning the following theologians: Calvin, Musculus, Beza, Ursinus, Alsted, de Bres, Alting, Acronius, Gomarus, Walaeus, Maccovius, Cloppenburg, Comrie, and many others. He says:

They viewed baptism not as a sign and proof that regeneration had already occurred in all elect infants, but as a seal of God’s promises to believers and their seed, promises that He would certainly fulfill toward all of them in His own time. Therefore Calvin declared that the baptism he had received in his youth first became profitable to him at a subsequent age (p. 90).

This qualifies the statement that TE Moon quoted, in that the variety of opinion was not whether the thing promised in baptism was actually given in baptism, but rather when regeneration occurred. The difference of opinion, then, left out the possibility that all the promises were fulfilled in baptism, as Hillenius’ quotation proves.

B. Next we have to deal with the ubiquitously quoted (in the FV literature) questions from Calvin’s catechism, which are universally misunderstood by FV’ers. Here are the two questions (quoted on p. 2 of TE Moon’s report):

Q. Are you, my son, a Christian in fact as well as in name? A: Yes, my father.

Q: How do you know yourself to be? A: Because I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (emphasis TE Moon’s).

First of all, we must notice that there are two distinct questions here. They are not one question, but two. This does have hermeneutical ramifications, since the first question has to do with the actual status of the child, and the second question has to do with the knowledge about that status. Every Reformed theologian of which this author is aware agrees that baptism forms part of our assurance of salvation. All the second question is getting at is the question of assurance. How does one know that he is a Christian in fact as well as in name? Well, one has the sign and seal of salvation. This question and answer makes no claim about how the state of being a Christian comes about. It merely says that baptism is a means of assurance concerning one’s true state. Furthermore, this is a catechism. It is not here delineating all the different things that filter into one’s assurance of salvation. That this is what Calvin means is proven quite adequately by the Institutes IV.15.2:

For Paul did not mean to signify that our cleansing and salvation are accomplished by water, or that water contains in itself the power to cleanse, regenerate, and renew; nor that here is the cause of salvation, but only that in this sacrament are received the knowledge and certainty of such gifts. This the words themselves explain clearly enough. For Paul joins together the Word of life and the baptism of water, as if he had said: “Through the gospel a message of our cleansing and sanctification is brought to us; through such baptism the message is sealed.”

Notice that the sacrament seals the Word, as it were. Certainly, this is not what TE Lawrence is saying, nor is it what TE Moon is saying.

C. Next up is TE Moon’s gross mishandling of Ferguson and Owen. The quotation comes from Ferguson’s book John Owen on the Christian Life:

[Baptism] is to be to the Christian a constant reminder and pledge of his being constituted a Christian, and of the basic elements in the ‘new creation’ which has come in Christ.’ (emphasis TE Moon’s).

TE Moon claims that this is using the name “Christian” to refer to someone who is baptized. However, the quotation is not saying that baptism constitutes one a Christian. It is saying that baptism is a constant reminder and pledge of his already having been constituted a Christian. That this is the proper way of interpreting Owen and Ferguson is proven by the context, where Owen is quoted to say that baptism is a token and pledge of forgiveness of sins: “He lets them know that he would take away their sin, wherein their spiritual defilement doth consist, even as water takes away the outward filth of the body” (emphasis, added, Owen’s Works, VI, pp. 465-6, quoted in Ferguson, p. 216). The phrase “would take away” refers not to a future act, but to the fact that in baptism God is promising to forgive sins.

D. The next quotation is from the Directory of Public Worship. This statement has an ellipsis in the middle of it. Here is how TE Moon quotes the DPW: “That children, by their baptism…are Christians” (p. 3 of TE Moon’s report).

It would be good to see the full quotation:

That children, by baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible church, distinguished from the world, and them that are without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.

The statement is not that children are Christians by virtue of the their baptism. The statement rather says that they are federally holy before their baptism. The words “federally holy” are a further explanation of the phrase “that they are Christians.” Therefore, the natural interpretation of the text is that children are Christians, that is, federally holy, before baptism, and thus ought to receive the sign. This is confirmed by the “therefore” clause at the end. They are baptized because they are federally holy, not vice versa. The phrases are carefully qualified here. TE Moon quoted the statement out of context, giving the impression that baptism was the instrument by which the child becomes a Christian in the sense being talked about here, whereas the federally holy sense of “Christian” is present before baptism, not because of it. Furthermore, this comes in the context of teaching a series of theses about what baptism means, and how it ought to be taught. Each “that” introduces a new item in the series. Therefore, it is hermeneutically suspect to take part of a phrase from one clause and combine it with part of a phrase of another clause.

E. TE Moon quotes Ursinus’s commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (quoted at the bottom of p. 5 and the top of p. 6, from p. 366 of the Commentary). The quotation in full reads:

[T]hose are not to be excluded from baptism, to whom the benefit of the remission of sins, and of regeneration belongs. But this benefit belongs to the infants of the church; for redemption from sin, by the blood of Christ and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult.

TE Moon thinks that Ursinus is saying that the infants of believers indiscriminately are said to have remission of sins, regeneration, and redemption (p. 6 of the report). This reading ignores three crucial elements: 1. Everyone agrees, even TE White and TE Keister, that infants can be saved. In fact, TE Keister and TE White believe that it is not necessary always to expect a violent conversion experience out of children, and that one can believe a child’s profession of faith. But not all children are regenerate from the womb, and not all children born of Christian parents are regenerated from the womb. It is just as dangerous to assume that they are regenerate when they are not, as it is to assume that they are not regenerate when they are. One can legitimately err on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt, as long as each parent takes upon himself the responsibility to nurture and admonish the child in the Lord’s grace. But all of that is not precisely the issue at hand. All the previous words in this paragraph were to prove that TE Moon set up a straw man. The main point at issue is: do these benefits of which Ursinus speaks come at baptism? Even in the passage, the answer is clearly not. For he says that the children already have these things (if he means the whole church, then he is not speaking in a head for head fashion, but in a generalizing fashion). He nowhere says that such benefits are given to the children at baptism. Baptism should come to children, because they have the thing signified (one should read here that they can have the thing signified: he is surely not saying that every child of Christian parents in fact has all these things). Ursinus says this explicitly just a little later on down the page: “those unto whom the things signified belong, unto them the sign also belongs.”

2. Ursinus uses the word “promised” in the last phrase. In the context, it seems plain that baptism is the promise. Whether they have faith or do not yet have it, baptism is the promise that faith will bring salvation.

3. TE Moon neglects the overall context of Ursinus’ theology and other statements which qualify the statement quoted. For instance, Ursinus is clearly distinguishing between sign and thing signifed in the theses concerning baptism, which run from page 371-373 of his commentary on the Heidelberg Catichism. He says the following:

When baptism is, therefore, said to be the laver or washing of regeneration, to save us, or to wash away sins, it is meant that the external baptism is a sign of the internal, that is, of regeneration, salvation and of spiritual absolution; and this internal baptism is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of it (emphasis added, p. 372).

And again:

All those who are baptized with water, whether adults or infants, are not made partakers of the grace of Christ, for the eternal election of God and his calling to the kingdom of Christ, is free (p. 373).

These are precisely the sort of qualifications necessary, and yet which are not present either in TE Moon’s presentation, nor in TE Lawrence’s theology. Again, compare TE Lawrence with the above:

LK: Let’s put it this way, the resurrection, or being united into the death and resurrection of Christ, does that pertain to the thing signified or to the sign, in Rom. 6 for instance?

GL: I would not distinguish.

LK: But that raises the question, then, if you don’t distinguish, then if everybody does get that at the water sign, then everybody does get the thing signified at the same time, right? Is that what you’re saying?

GL: Yeah. By virtue of the rite of baptism, to some degree they become recipients of those benefits, in terms of their union with Christ (pp. 59-60 of the final report).

TE Lawrence says that everyone becomes recipients of the thing signified by virtue of the rite of baptism. In order to avoid confusion at precisely this point, TE Keister made the qualification “at the water sign.” TE Lawrence is clear on this point. TE Lawrence is equally clearly out of accord with the Standards, which explicitly contradict the idea that these benefits come at the time of the sign (cf. WCF 28.1, 28.6).

Another essential point to notice here is that Ursinus uses the phrase “infants of the church.” This phrase is not the same as TE Moon’s “the infants of believers.” For how one defines the church will be important as to how the phrase “infants of the church” should be understood. To understand this, we must look at what Ursinus says about the church:

The Catechism in answer to the Question under consideration, defines the church to be that assembly, or congregation of men, chosen of God from everlasting to eternal life, which the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself, by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, agreeing in true faith, and which he will at length glorify with eternal life and glory. Such is the definition of the true church of God of which the Creed properly speaks (p. 286 of the Commentary). (See question 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism, LK).

Now, although Ursinus goes on to make all the normal distinctions in terms of how we speak about the church, we have to notice the italicized parts of the above quotation. This indicates that the above defines the normal usage of the word “church” in Ursinus’s commentary. Therefore, “infants of the church” does not refer to all children of believers, as TE Moon suggests, but rather refers to elect infants, who are part of the true church. And precisely because we cannot see who is elect and who is not, all children of professing believers are to be baptized. But Ursinus is not saying that all children of believers indiscriminately have the thing signified.

To be continued…

Posted by Wes White

News Concerning Tenth Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken will be leaving Tenth Presbyterian Church to take up duties as the next President of Wheaton College.

I have to admit I was stunned by this news. I had hoped he would stay at Tenth for another 20 years and give us volume after volume of expository sermons. He might still be able to do that, I don’t know. Certainly Wheaton College has made a wise choice. And I can certainly see how appealing the position would be for Phil, especially since he would be able to be near his father. But I am concerned for Tenth. Where will they find another expository preacher of Phil’s caliber? I sat under his preaching for 4 years and was blessed every Sunday by the gifts God has given him. Tenth’s sore loss is certainly Wheaton’s great gain.

It Gives Me Great Pleasure

To introduce my readers to this monumental volume. A series like this has long been a desideratum. My initial impressions: if every volume comes even half-way to the standard now set by Andreas Köstenberger, we will be well-served indeed by a comprehensive New Testament theology.

I would like to point out some of the larger implications of the book before getting to some of the highlights. The largest component of the implications is that this set of volumes is well-positioned to bridge that seemingly unbridgeable gap between exegesis and systematic theology. Köstenberger admirably achieves a bridge between the disciplines, frequently pointing out the implications for ST of a certain literary aspect of John’s Gospel. He does this also in the structure of the book, moving from literary analysis to topical studies based on the literary reading. To my mind, this bridge is the single biggest contribution that Köstenberger has given us in this volume. In doing so, he has put the entire scholarly world permanently in his debt. I can only hope and pray that the remaining volumes will aim at a similar goal.

Secondly, the bibliography is incredible. I could only think of a very few omissions (who can read everything nowadays, even on one book of the Bible?), and I don’t think those omissions affected the outcome much. The bibliography alone is worth the price of admission for anyone working on the Gospel of John.

Thirdly, for anyone preaching on John, it is essential that one have a grasp of the whole picture before diving in to the individual passages. I can think of no better tool for getting at the big picture of John than this volume. Preachers, then, should read this volume now before preaching on John. It will help give preachers a reading strategy in their own acquisition of John’s theology, and it will help preachers follow the flow of John’s thought better, thus enabling them to communicate John better to the congregants.

Now, for some specifics. The book is divided into 16 chapters, which are in turn divided into 4 major parts: historical framework, literary foundations, major themes, and implications for the entire canon of Scripture. Of these 4 sections the middle two constitute the main bulk of the volume. The main substance of the volume consists of a movement from a literary and exegetical reading to a theological reading. However, one should not think that Köstenberger has thereby short-changed introductory matters or canonical significance. Particularly memorable in the introductory section are his defense of the historical reliability of John’s Gospel (he is very good at giving us a history of scholarship that is interesting rather than a simple litany of views). In this regard, he banks heavily on (though is not uncritical of) the work of Bauckham (this volume and this volume pop up a lot, I was glad to see), and Blomberg. Köstenberger makes an intriguing case for John being written after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. His arguments are more than plausible.

The second part of the work includes discussions of the genre of John’s Gospel and Letters, followed by a discussion of linguistic and literary dimensions of the same. He takes it upon himself to debunk the “Johannine community” hypothesis supported most notably by Raymond Brown. Köstenberger then gives us a very helpful literary commentary on the whole of John’s Gospel and Letters. This is a “forest” type of commentary (he’s already given us an outstanding “tree” commentary). Interestingly, this is, in effect, his fourth commentary on John, the other two being his contribution to the NT”s Use of the OT commentary, and also the commentary in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.

The third major part of the book is his treatment of Johannine themes. The themes he treats include John’s worldview, the Messiah and his signs, creation and new creation, the Trinity, Jesus’ fulfillment of festal symbolism, the cosmic trial motif, the intersection of divine sovereignty and human responsibility (this is where his Calvinism shines through most clearly), the love ethic, the theology of the cross, and John’s Trinitarian Mission Theology (which is based on his work in this book, as is the chapter on the Trinity). It would be difficult to think of a major Johannine theme which Köstenberger has left out, or even a minor theme.

The fourth major part examines John’s relationship to the rest of the New Testament. At first, I was disappointed that he hadn’t had a separate section on John’s relationship to the Old Testament. But then I remembered that he hadn’t omitted that treatment: it was embedded in the whole of the volume. He takes a very salvation-historical approach (Westminster grads like me use the term redemptive-historical).

It seems almost churlish of me to note criticisms of an accomplishment so fine as this volume. These criticisms should be considered very minor indeed, and easily fixable for the next edition (I do hope he will keep this volume up-to-date in the coming decades!). As I said, there were very few bibliographic omissions that I could find. Nevertheless, I think he could have taken more account of Judith Lieu’s work. She wrote both a theology of John’s Letters, and a very complete commentary on the second and third letters of John, neither of which receive any attention in the volume. Secondly, while he does treat 1 John fairly well, 2 and 3 John are not given very much attention. Of course, they are very small letters in comparison to the gigantic Gospel and the much larger 1 John. Nevertheless, I would like to have felt that he had spent the right proportion of energy on them, and given them the same painstaking detailed work he had given on the Gospel and 1 John. What he does say on them is excellent. But I wanted a bit more. There were a couple of sections that were not especially clear. One of them was on page 520, and brought into question his view of the scope of the atonement. I didn’t come away with a clear idea of definite, or limited atonement, from the volume. That doesn’t mean that he denies limited atonement, it just wasn’t clear to me what his position is. One other thing I could have wished he would have done is talk a bit more about the phrase “in me” in John 15:2. Of course, the Federal Vision controversy is not a Baptist controversy. Nevertheless, I was hoping that he might say a word or two about it.

These are very minor criticisms, and should in no way detract from this magnificent achievement. I enjoyed reading it from start to finish, and recommend it heartily as easily the best book on Johannine theology that we have. It will be difficult indeed for anyone to supersede it.

I know of only one other complete review on the net right now, that of Selvaggio, who also gives it a good review.

Have You Ever Noticed?

Have you ever noticed that no critic has ever understood any aspect of any FV teaching in the entire 8 year history of this conflict, if you were to believe some FV guys? One would think that the FV guys were artists, given how difficult their work is to understand.

I have occasions where I am misunderstood. Almost inevitably, I am to blame for not being clear in my writing or speaking. I hope I have been honest enough to admit those times when I misspoke or forgot to guard the meaning closely enough to eliminate misunderstanding.

However, eliminating all possible misunderstandings has not usually been the modus operandi of FV guys. Language that is ambiguous, capable of multiple levels of meaning, or similar modes of thought are par for the course for FV writers. Has it ever occurred to FV guys to wonder if maybe, just possibly, most if not all the misunderstanding they are claiming the critics are having might be the fault of the FV authors for not being clear? FV guys quite often claim to be confessional. Then why can’t FV theology be expressed in confessional terms? If it really is as confessional as all that, as deeply steeped in the Reformed fathers as many FV guys claim, then why can’t reasonably intelligent pastors, who are theologically educated, grasp these concepts? Some FV guys will simply call us stupid, or worse, Satanic. According to this mode of reasoning, it’s all the reader’s fault if they don’t understand it. After all, it’s crystal clear to them what they mean. But then, when you dig, you find that there is a different paradigm underlying the FV. And that has been the point of the critics all along: the paradigm is not confessional! Maybe the critics are reading the FV guys better than the FV guys think.

Chronological Order of Events

Response to TE Rayburn, part 7

This post will take up the issue of the covenant of works. TE Rayburn’s argument is many-faceted, and will require careful thought.

The first point he makes is that even someone denying the covenant of works is not out of accord with the fundamentals of the system of doctrine. As an example, he adduces John Murray. However, John Murray’s position on the Covenant of Works is not usually well-understood in these debates. Murray argues that the term “Covenant of Works” is infelicitous, because it does not provide for the elements of grace (see volume 2 of his works, p. 49), and because it is not so called in Scripture. However, the structure of the covenant of works is still present in Murray’s theology. Consider the following quotation (I have added emphasis in bold):

Analogy is drawn between Adam and Christ. They stand in unique relations to mankind. there is none before Adam-he is the first man. There is none between-Christ is the second man. There is none after Christ-he is the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:44-49). Here we have an embracive construction of human relationships. We know also that in Christ there is representative relationship and that obedience successfully completed has its issue in righteousness, justification, life for all he represents (1 Cor. 15:22). So a period of obedience successfully completed by Adam would have secured eternal life for all represented by him.

The Adamic administration is, therefore, construed as an administration in which God, by a special act of providence, established for man the provision whereby he might pass from the status of contingency to one of confirmed and indefectible holiness and blessedness, that is, from posse peccare and posse non peccare to non posse peccare. The way instituted was that of ‘an intensified and concentrated probation’ (the quotation is from Vos, LK), the alternative issues being dependent upon the issues of obedience or disobedience.

From this statement, taken in context, Murray is intending to set forth the parallel federal headship of Adam and Christ. From this, he comes to the conclusion that Christ’s righteousness results in justification for all He represents, and so it would have been with Adam. Of course, Murray goes on to delineate the elements of grace present in the Adamic administration, but do not miss this point: the basis for obtaining life under the Adamic administration was works, not grace. This is crucial for understanding the SJC’s decision, actually.

TE Rayburn claims that the SJC’s decision is wrong in claiming that TE Leithart’s view of the covenant of works and covenant of grace has no discontinuity. TE Rayburn brings forth as evidence TE Leithart’s view of covenantal headship changes (from Adam to Christ). TE Rayburn also adduces TE Leithart’s advocation of grace in the covenant of works, and claims that this is a commonplace in Reformed theology. This latter claim is correct. However, it misses the point at issue, which is this: on what basis would Adam have obtained eternal life? Works or faith? Not even Murray supports the latter position, but rather the former, that Adam would have obtained eternal life on the basis of his works. Of course, this is not condign, or even congruent merit, but merit improperly so-called, or pactum merit (for a discussion of these different kinds of merit, see this post). TE Rayburn fails to address this point. The reason that this is important is that the claim of the SJC is that TE Leithart does not have discontinuity in his theology of CoW/CoG when it comes to the basis for obtaining eternal life. That TE Leithart posits no discontinuity in the matter of soteriology is crystal clear in his letter, quoted by the SJC’s decision. TE Leithart says:

The differences between Adamic and post-lapsarian covenants are not at a “soteriological” level (ie., not a contrast of a “legal” versus a “gracious” covenant), but at the level of covenant administration.

I don’t think TE Leithart could be any clearer. The basis for having eternal life both before and after the fall would be by grace through faith, according to TE Leithart. This is not only contrary to chapter 7 of the standards, which posits a different basis for obtaining eternal life as one goes from the CoW to the CoG, but it is also contrary to Murray, whom TE Rayburn cites in support of TE Leithart’s position.

TE Rayburn also adduces Palmer Robertson in support of the point that the term “Covenant of Works” has limitations. Quite apart from the issue of whether Robertson would feel that this is a fair use of his name in defense of TE Leithart, it is fairly clear that the structure of the Covenant of Works according to the Westminster Standards is upheld by Palmer Robertson (see Christ of the Covenants, pp. 85ff). The question is not whether there are any traces of grace in the Covenant of Works. In other words, this is not an issue of Klinean views on merit versus other confessional Reformed views. Rather, it is the view of the basis of obtaining eternal life by Adam that is the proper view here. To close, I would like to remind us of what Wilhelmus a’Brakel said when he opened his discussion of the Covenant of Works:

Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works, will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect. This is to be observed with several parties who, because they err concerning the covenant of grace, also deny the covenant of works. Conversely, whoever denies the covenant of works, must rightly be suspected to be in error concerning the covenant of grace as well.

An Interesting New Series

Much as the ACCS has given us ready access to the most important comments of the early church fathers on Scripture, we now have a new series dedicated to doing the same in relation to the explication of the Nicene Creed. This will be a 5-volume series, of which 4 are now out: 1, 2, 3, 4.

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