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).