Leithart Trial: Barker on Permissible Views of Baptism

Here is a section of the testimony by William S. Barker II, former president of Covenant Theological Seminary, a witness in defense of TE Peter Leithart in his trial in Pacific Northwest Presbytery.

Stellman: Do you think it’s okay to take what our standards call the saving blessings of the covenant of grace such as being in dwell by the Holy Spirit, adopted and constituted inwardly in the most profound sense as God’s son, and being married to Jesus. Is it okay to take those blessings that our standards attribute to the elect and apply them simply by virtue of baptism to every single infant who’s been baptized?
Barker: I would probably not say it that way myself but if I understood it in context I – - as I take it – - Jeff Meyers would have said something like that. I’ve found that to be allowable within the system of doctrine.”

This explains why the defense wanted him as a witness.

Here is the fuller context for reference:

CROSS-EXAMINATION
PROSECUTION (STELLMAN): Dr. Barker, first let me thank you for coming and being here and testifying before this court. I’ve got a few questions – -
WITNESS: I’ve not met you before, could you tell me your name?
Q: My name is Jason Stellman.
A: Glad to meet to you.
Q: Nice to meet you too. Got a couple questions for you. You began by talking about the fact that we are not bound to what some call strict subscription but rather need to subscribe in a good faith kind of way. How many system, systems of doctrine are there?
A: You mean in – - in Christianity as a whole?
Q: No. The way we use the term. How many systems of doctrine are there?
A: We subscribe to one system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures.
Q: Okay. Good. I was hoping that’s what you would say. The conf- – We can – - we receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this church as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. Tell me if this is the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture? Infant baptism, in an ex opere operato fashion unites every single person who receives it to Jesus Christ by which we are married to Christ and adopted by virtue of baptism into God’s family. All of which benefits can be lost. Furthermore, we are placed after baptism in a covenantal situation with God that is not fundamentally dissimilar to that which Adam enjoyed before his fall. We are through baptism justified and which is the same thing definitively sanctified. Faith comes in later on not as the sole instrument whereby we receive the saving blessings of the covenant of grace but faith comes in after the fact, after we’ve received them all by baptism as a response. And if we persevere in faith, then we will stand before God on the last day and receive final justification according to works. Is this the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture?
A: If I understand correctly, you’re quoting from a Federal Vision advocate and I would assume that’s Dr. Leithart.
Q: I’m taking statements of Dr. Leithart’s and putting them into one semi-concise statement.
A: Right. I think – -
DEFENSE: Mr. Moderator?
MODERATOR: Excuse me, Mr. Witness. We have objection here.
DEFENSE: The defense simply wants to reiterate that reasonably our witnesses were primarily prepared to address the quotes in the indictment. So, the defense does not think it’s reasonable for the court to expect the same level of preparation from our witnesses to new quotes.
MODERATOR: Okay, well – - so noted. I’m going to allow the question. You – - If you want to on redirect do (inaudible) —-
DEFENSE: I just wanted that noted.
MODERATOR: Alright. Go ahead.
PROSECUTION: Alright and – - and just for the record, these questions I’m asking you Dr. Barker are things I wrote down while you were talking. And so, I only brought up the issue of system of doctrine because that was the first question that was asked of you. And so the door has been opened and I’m just – -
MODERATOR: Yeah, I think you – - you are permitted to ask the question.
PROSECUTION: Alright and so – - and so, does that describe the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture?
DEFENSE: Are these paraphrases or are these actual quotes and if so what’s the cite?
MODERATOR: I – - I’m going to let him ask the question. If you – - if you – -
(okay)
MODERATOR: – - if you want to challenge the accuracy of any of those statements as not being representative of the respondent or the respondent’s views, you certainly may in redirect.
WITNESS: As I understand, the general teaching of the Federal Vision school of thought, a statement like that is made to describe somebody as a covenant child who becomes connected to the visible church as a result of that having happened and has some type of relationship then with God, with Christ, with the visible church but it isn’t clear whether that person is among the elect. And as long as we understand it that way, I can see where this could be within our system of doctrine.
Q: Do you think it’s okay to take what our standards call the saving blessings of the covenant of grace such as being in dwell by the Holy Spirit, adopted and constituted inwardly in the most profound sense as God’s son, and being married to Jesus. Is it okay to take those blessings that our standards attribute to the elect and apply them simply by virtue of baptism to every single infant who’s been baptized?
A: I would probably not say it that way myself but if I understood it in context I – - as I take it – - Jeff Meyers would have said something like that. I’ve found that to be allowable within the system of doctrine. It’s a particular understanding of the – - the benefits of being in a covenant relationship, being part of the visible church, which was my own experience as a baptized infant. Just what does that mean? What does that entail? We don’t know whether any of those individuals are really among the elect and whether it will prove out over the course of their life.
Q: But isn’t it the case that there’s a qualitative difference between those who are elect and those who are not with respect to the blessings they receive and their relationship to God and not just a difference of duration?
A: Well, I would, I would think so. The – - It’s very hard to know outwardly what the difference is.

Peter Leithart’s 10+ Years of Work on the PNW Candidates & Credentials Committee

How is it that a Presbytery of the PCA could exonerate a man in the face of the General Assembly’s Federal Vision Report, which specifically condemned the teaching of this very man? Perhaps one of the reasons is that for thirteen years, Peter Leithart has been on the Pacific Northwest Presbytery Candidates and Credentials Committee. Peter Leithart has been “specifically charged with examining incoming candidates regarding sacraments.” Here is Dr. Leithart’s testimony on the matter:

COMMISSIONER: Peter, beginning, thank you for being part of this. And I want to express for the record, thanks for – - to your wife as well who is here present with us. The – - In the cross examination yesterday, the prosecution spoke of your relationship to the PCA and this presbytery and distinction from your involvement in another denomination. You’re obviously serving out of bounds. I would like to ask a couple questions about your relationship with us. You’ve been serving in this presbytery, I know it’s part of the record but I don’t recollect, for how long now?
WITNESS [Leithart]: Since 1998.
Q: Since 1998. You’ve been involved heavily in the examination of incoming transfers and presbyters and men coming under care extensively, haven’t you?
A: I have. Yes.
Q: And has that had a meaningful form of impact, do you think, on the presbytery?
A: I think it’s been beneficial to the presbytery. I should say just for the record and for those who don’t know, I’m on the examination credentials committee and that I’m specifically charged with examining incoming candidates regarding sacraments.
Q: And so you are, so that’s been formative to a number of men on their way through right?
A: I think it’s been helpful to a number of men coming into the presbytery who during the course of the examination realize that they have gaps in their training and knowledge that the – - the exam exposes. One of the questions asks concerning the reformed liturgical tradition and ask them to answer question partly in terms of that. And there’ve been a number of candidates who knew nothing, virtually nothing about that and this forced them to do some studies. So, yes I think it’s been (inaudible)” –Leithart Trial Transcript (pp. 235-236).

The Leithart Trial: Dr. Jack Collins’ Defense of Peter Leithart’s View of the Covenant with Adam

The trial documents from the Peter Leithart trial are now available here.

Jason Stellman has begun to post some of the testimony from the trial here. I also want to post some of the testimony of the trial so we can discuss it here. I want to begin with discussing Dr. Jack Collins’ (professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary) testimony in regard to the covenant of works. Dr. Collins said that he found himself basically in agreement with Leithart on the covenant of works:

Leithart Defense: In your view, does Dr. Leithart’s view expressed as – - as expressed in the indictment contradict the teaching of Genesis 2 regarding the covenant God made with man in Eden and that – - that comes with, in a sense, a set of now predicable questions. Was there grace in that covenant? Was the fruit of the tree of life, often said to be the sacrament of that covenant, to be eaten by man in his innocence? Michael Horton, for example, has argued that Adam had to earn his right to the tree of life by his obedience. Comment in your – - on your understanding of the covenant made with Adam in the garden.

Collins: Well, I – - I find myself largely in – - in agreement with Dr. Leithart’s 8 discussion of God’s arrangement with Adam . . .

Since this seemed to be problematic, Jason Stellman asked him about this. I think he did a good job of getting at the heart of the issue, if perhaps relenting too early:

Stellman: Okay. I’m going to move on to the next issue brought up in direct concerning the covenant of works. And you’ve written, I’ve not read your books. Thank you for the plug. I – I – I will add it to my list of, my growing list of books I’d like to read, especially the one on the first four chapters of Genesis. Do you think that the prefall covenant, and I’m not going to use covenant of works, call it a covenant of life, or whatever. But the – - the covenant before the fall made with Adam, was it conditional and based upon Adam’s 14 obedience in a way that the covenant of grace is not? And – - and I’m – - here’s what I’m not asking ’cause – ‘cause – ‘cause when I ask this kind of question, usually the answer is 16 something like this. Well, there’s – - there’s grace before the fall, you know at least broadly defined, and there’s the nece- – necessity for obedience after the fall and those two things characterize all covenants. But – - but I’m not, that’s not what I’m asking. Because I’m going to concede that grace broadly defined was there before the fall and that obedience of the law of Christ is necessary after it. But my question is more narrow. Does the prefall covenant demand as a condition obedience on Adam’s part in a way that the covenant of grace doesn’t on our part?

Collins: Well, you have to be careful in your definition of the covenant of grace. I think the catechism thinks of the covenant of grace as having been made with Jesus as the head. And so there, I mean, there’s a parallel between Adam and Jesus. And so you want – - you want to be very, very careful in – - in your definitions there. And – - and again since 4 these terms covenant of works, covenant of life, whatever, and covenant of grace. These – - these are not terms that you find in the Bible. So that, you know, you – - so you have the – - the opportunity to, to exercise a level of arbitrariness in how you define these things. But the, the – - the reading that – - that I advocate of – - I’m not trying not to answer your question. I’m trying to understand your question, which – - which I’m not sure that I do. The reason the – - the reading that I advocate of God’s arrangement with Adam is that Adam is loaded with benefits, he’s – - he’s in a relationship with God and – - but but he’s not confirmed in that. And – - and the – - the job of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is by his obedience to God, Adam would be confirmed in the right kind of knowledge of good and evil. And so he was, he was seduced from the path of obedience and – - and in him all of us are rendered disobedient. The – - the situation with, with God’s dealings with – - with 15 mankind after that always involves the – - the aspect of redemption, a forgiveness of sins 16 and so forth, which – - which is not a part of the arrangement with Adam. So, I – I – help – - help me to know exactly what – - what it is you’re after?

Stellman: Okay, because there’s nothing that you said that I – - I disagree with. But what I’m asking is something more, more specific. Was Adam’s obedience what our Confession and catechisms call his perfect, perpetual, personal obedience. Did that 21 function as a condition to gaining whatever it we want to call the eschatological reward. 22 Did that obedience function as a condition to gaining that reward in such a way that after the fall our obedience does not function? Was there a condition attached to Adam’s obedience that no longer functions – -

Collins: Yes, there, I mean, there’s a condition attached to his obedience. And – - and so in not fulfilling the – - the condition, I mean, that’s a disaster.

Stellman: Yes. Is that the same arrangement that we’re under now after the fall covenantally?

Collins: Well, it’s, it’s – - I suppose you’d have to say, with respect to what? It’s in some ways there – - there is a similarity. It’s – - it’s a response to the goodness of a creator. But – - but in other way – - in other ways there’s a dissimilarity in that we’re dealing with ourselves as broken creatures that have been redeemed that are in process of being reconstructed.

Stellman: Isn’t that – - so, you’re describing the fall? Is it not true that because of the fall what changes after covenantally, what changes after the fall for us is not just the object of our faith. Adam believed in a loving creator. We believe in a crucified and risen Christ. Certainly there’s a dissimilarity there that nobody disputes. But because of the fall, is it not 15 the case that our obedience functions differently under the covenant of grace with respect to the condition for receiving the reward than Adam’s prefall obedience would have functioned?

Collins: Well, I – - I think that that you can say that there are differences. But there are also similarities. I mean, our obedience is the means by which, I mean that – - that’s a part of our participation in the benefits. And so, you know the apostle Paul will tell the Colossians believers, Colossians 1, that, you know, you will receive glorification provided you continue steadfast and so forth. So that’s, that there – - there are, I’m sure you, – - yes, I mean, there are differences, I think. Well, there – - there have to be. But – - but there’re also similarities and so (inaudible)- – -

Stellman: What are, what are the differences? 3

Collins: I’m sorry?

Stellman: You said several times that there are differences and similarities. And you’ve described the similarities between Adam before the fall and us now. What are – - what are the differences other than the object of his faith being different than the object of ours because now we’re sinners, we trust in a crucified and risen Lord. But with respect to the works and the obedience what’s the difference between how it functioned for Adam and how it functions for us now?

Collins: Well, I don’t come into the world morally innocent for one thing. And so that – - that I – - so I – - I’m just in a totally different condition to be dealt with of – - of guilt, brokenness and so forth. And – - and so the – - the process just looks different.

Stellman: But you’re talking about the difference of my condition as a fallen human born into the world. But I am not talking about our condition as fallen. I’m talking about the conditional nature of Adam’s obedience. Did his obedience function as a condition to gaining the reward in a way that ours does not?

Collins: Well, yeah it would, it would be different because he’s function- – he’s functioning as a head. And – - and so we have a head namely Christ who has functioned. And so that – - that we’re, our obedience isn’t in – - in the – - the department of functioning as a head of a covenant people.

Stellman: Okay. Good. So – - so Christ is the antitype of Adam and not us. Christ is the second Adam. We’re not second Adams.

Collins: Well, in – - in, when biblical writers talk about a second Adam or the last Adam they’re – - they’re talking about Christ. That – - that does not mean that that – - that there isn’t a bearing upon us, you know, from the Adamic situation.

Stellman: Certainly. We are Christians and so we – - there there’s obviously a 6 connection between us and Christ. But given what you just said that – - that Christ, that – - that we’re not federal heads. Christ is. The way Adam was. And so is it not true that the way, the condition for our receiving the benefits, the – - the very eschatological benefits promised to Adam, the condition by which we receive them is not our own perfect, perpetual and personal obedience but the obedience of Jesus Christ and his satisfaction and death imputed to us by faith alone, which is exactly what our standards say.

Peter Leithart actually got to the heart of the issue in his redirect. Here Collins stated that he did not think the Standards addressed the distinction between the nature of Adam’s obedience and the nature of the believer’s obedience:

Leithart: Right. And by the same token, does the Westminster standards, do the Westminster standards to your knowledge distinguish in detail between the – - the nature of Adam’s required obedience and the nature of the believer’s required obedience?

Collins: Not to my knowledge.

Do you agree? Would you say that the Westminster Standards do not distinguish in detail between Adam’s required obedience and the believer’s required obedience?

Pacific Northwest: Peter Leithart is not guilty

The decision in the Peter Leithart case is in. You can read the details at The Aquila Report here. Pacific Northwest exonerated TE Peter Leithart of all theological error.

I testified at the trial, and I would highly recommend that you read my testimony. You can download it here.

Here are a few highlights from my testimony:

  1. Statement [from Leithart's book Priesthood of the Plebs]: “Applied to baptism, then, our typology leads to a doctrine of ‘baptismal regeneration.’” What he means by this is explained on p. 169, where he writes “Baptism irreversibly plants my story in the story of the church, for even if I renounce her, my renunciation is part of her history.”

    Comment: Clearly, Leithart desires to diminish the distinction between outer and inner in the Christian life. The objective and the subjective become less relevant distinctions in Leithart’s theology. This is how he can argue for a form of baptismal regeneration.

    Further explanation is on page 170, where he says “Operative ceremonies, thus, by placing us in new roles, vesting us with new clothes, and imposing new sets of obligations and rules, effect an ‘ontological’ transformation, a change in who we are, who we think we are, and who others think we are. Baptism clothes us as priests, and these clothes remake the man. (par. break, LK) Having cleared some ground, we can return more explicitly to our typology to show that it implies a theological, not a reductively sociological, view of baptismal regeneration.” Later, he will say “The baptized is no longer regarded as ‘stranger’ but born again as a ‘son of the house.’” And again, on p. 171, “Baptism into the ecclesial priesthood that is the house therefore also confers the arrabon of the Spirit.” Finally, he says that “as baptism authorizes and deputizes to such ministry, it grants a share in the life of salvation.”

    Comment: One really cannot have clearer statements than these: baptism confers at the time point of its administration, saving benefits. The rite is not viewed by Leithart as having a confirmatory significance. Leithart relocates the efficacy of the rite by tying the Holy Spirit to the moment of baptism.

  2. Statement [from Leithart's book Priesthood of the Plebs]: “Far from being reductionist, this typology and the framework extrapolated from it permits a richer and stronger affirmation of the objectivity of baptismal grace than found in traditional sacramental theology, which has hesitated to affirm that baptism confers grace ex opere operato….If grace is the favor of God manifested in the bestowal of favors, then baptism is and confers grace: the grace of a standing in the house of God, the grace of membership in the community of the reconciled, the grace of immersion in the history of the bride of Christ, the grace of God’s favorable regard upon us. It would be churlish to complain that it does not also guarantee perseverance. (par. break, LK) Objections may, however, arise from a different quarter. Thus far I have used ‘regeneration’ in the traditional sense of individual transformation.”

    Comment: a number of things are important here: 1. He does not hesitate, unlike traditional sacramental theology, to affirm that baptism works ex opere operato. 2. When baptism confers regeneration, Leithart has meant it in the usual sense of individual transformation. 3. Leithart grants that baptism does not guarantee perseverance. So baptism confers regeneration, but this regeneration, though used in the normal sense, does not guarantee perseverance. There are many problems with this, confessionally. If a person is regenerated in the normal sense, he cannot lose that regeneration. This is basic Calvinism. Secondly, no sacrament works ex opere operato. As we have seen in our exposition of the WS, not everyone receives the grace offered, and not everyone receives it at the time-point of its administration. It is rather the Holy Spirit who gives faith that effects the thing signified. The general drift of Leithart’s work here is to eliminate altogether the distinction between signum-res, and he believes that his typology of OT priesthood is what allows him to do this.

  3. Statements [from Leithart’s book Against Christianity: “Baptism forms as well as symbolizes the new city of God. Through baptism, all sorts and conditions of men are made members of one body and become citizens of a single community…The Reformers cut through the lush overgrowth of subordinate rituals that had clustered around baptism and reduced the rite to its biblical form―a sprinkling with water. That was right and proper. Yet, most of those sub-rites presented the truth about the event of baptism: it really is a renunciation of the world, a deliverance from the domain of Satan into the domain of Christ, an investiture with royal and priestly garments.”

    Comment: The Confession puts these effects down to effectual calling (WCF 10) and justification (WCF 11, cf. Zechariah 3, a picture of justification if ever there was one, especially as it echoes the garments God made for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3).

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