Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is something Christians are now starting to hear about (read: getting it stuffed down their throats at Mach 5). CRT is generally understood as the foundation for people’s understanding of “systemic racism.” To put it simply, CRT believes that “the system” is rigged in favor of white people. As Roy Brooks puts it (“Critical Race Theory: A Proposed Structure and Application to Federal Pleading”. Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 11 (1994): 85ff.): “The question always lurking in the background of CRT is this: What would the legal landscape look like today if people of color were the decision-makers?” CRT is therefore primarily about power, as it is perceived to be unequally distributed. There is a lot more to CRT than that, but this is enough to be getting on with.

I read Bill Smith’s very interesting article on the subject this morning. Though I would have significant theological differences with Bill Smith in other areas of theology, I am in complete agreement with him on his analysis of CRT, and I want to highlight a couple of things he brings out. Firstly, it seems to me that CRT denies the possibility of change on the part of either blacks or whites. Not even God can change racism in a white person, according to CRT. No amount of apology or grovelling will suffice to make a white person woke enough to escape the racism that is endemic to his whiteness. Not even the gospel can bring forgiveness for this offence. This makes the inherent racism of white people worse than original sin, since original sin can be forgiven in the blood of Christ’s atonement. In fact, it makes racism an unforgivable sin period. I could be wrong, but I thought there was only one unforgivable sin, and that it had something to do with blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and not racism.

Secondly, the ethnic uniformity of whites, and of blacks, is emphasized in CRT to the exclusion of all individuality whatsoever. All blacks are oppressed. All whites are oppressors. This makes both groups incapable of moral agency, as Smith points out. Smith goes on to note that if moral agency is thus denied to blacks and whites, then so is the image of God denied to them. CRT thus dehumanizes both whites and blacks, contrary to the narrative of Scripture.

Lastly, and building on what I said above about power, it becomes obvious why statues of Ulysses Grant (a thorough abolitionist and friend to black people) are being torn down. All white power structures must go, even those which are historically kind to black people. According to CRT, justice will not be achieved until blacks have all the power, all the current systems are thrown down, and completely new ones put in their place by blacks in power. Only then will systemic justice be achieved (though see below). But this is to put one’s faith in princes. Justice is no longer in the hands of God at this point. It is in the change of power from whites to blacks. It can be questioned whether a simple power transfer would even be enough. I ask this question: will the payback (read revenge) be eternal? Blacks will, I think, find themselves in the position of Edmond Dantes, finding out, at the end, that revenge always goes too far.

A Further Thought on Racism

I have been told to my face that I am a racist because I am white. Let’s break down that claim a bit. The usual baggage that goes along with this claim is that whiteness is part and parcel of “systemic racism.” Therefore I am racist because I have benefited from a white-favorable system. I don’t agree with this idea. The point I want to get at goes deeper, though, and that is the fact that I cannot choose my whiteness. I have the skin I was born with. So the claim that I am racist because I am white is really a claim that I am racist by default. It is programmed into me, as it were. My DNA is racist. I can’t help but be racist. I couldn’t be anything other than racist.

Here is the problem. These people who claim that I am racist because I am white will turn around and say in the next breath that homosexuality and transgenderism are also things that are in the DNA, and that a person is one of those things, not by choice, but by a predetermined DNA. So, we are supposed to accept and not blame a predetermined outcome in the case of LGBTQ folks, but we can blame people who are predetermined to be white and therefore racist. So why is it that the LGBTQ community can excuse their behavior on the basis of inevitability, but alleged racists, who are also supposedly inevitable in their behavior, are blamed and hated?

Most of the CRT folks using the argument about racism discussed above won’t bring in original sin as part of the discussion. However, in a Reformed context, we cannot avoid it. Theoretically, a Reformed version of CRT could argue that both LGBTQ behavior and the automatic racism of white people comes from original sin, which is something God can save us from. However, this won’t completely work, either, at least not in the case of the alleged racists. Why are only white people afflicted with this aspect of original sin? This gets at another important point debated in the literature: whether black people are capable of racism or not. I have talked to black people on both side of that question. It depends, of course, on how one defines racism. If it is a disparagement of someone from another ethnic background because of their ethnic difference, then there is no reason to suppose that black people are incapable of racism. This is not a politically correct opinion, however, on the definition of racism. The CRT folk define racism in such a way that black people are incapable of it. So, if we go back to the original sin discussion for a second, we will quickly realize that it makes no sense at all to claim that a segment of the world’s population (the white segment) has a version of original sin that no one else has, because of their ethnic background! It sounds an awful lot like the first definition of racism to suppose that white people have a different version of original sin than anyone else does.

Of course, this is all so much logic-chopping to the vast majority of today’s CRT folks. Logic shouldn’t enter the equation, they say. Rather, it is sensitivity to other people’s feelings. I would respond by saying that sensitivity to other people’s feelings is a good thing, but it doesn’t have to be set over against logic. We can still try to be consistent. But logic is inescapable, too. They are, in effect, saying that it isn’t logical to use logic, and that we should logically use sensitivity, because it makes more sense to do so. Logic does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?

A Jeremiad

The America I knew and loved growing up is almost completely gone. The name, at least, remains. Some call it progress. I call it destruction. The people in charge are those who yell and scream, not those who debate with reason and analysis. The political world consists of those who have become so practiced in screaming that I wonder they have any vocal cords left. All political orthodoxy is assumed, not proven, not debated. It is shouted. The power of the shout, and the accompanying shatter of glass, is the only power that means anything today.

This same hatred has poured forth into the Christian world, the theological world, even the “academic” world. Freedom of opinion is not allowed any more. Only certain voices can be heard, because they shout the loudest.

For what then can we weep? Must we not weep for the wrath of God that is coming even through these glass-shattering shouts? Must we not weep for the silenced voices (which are not the voices the world thinks are silenced)? Must we not weep that we will shortly be joining our martyr brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as of a piece with the persecuted church? Must we not weep for the veil Satan has drawn over so many people’s eyes so they cannot see the spiritual warfare?

What hope have we? We have the hope God gives us. God gives us hope that silenced voices are only silent on earth. They are not silent to God. Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground, though his voice on earth was silent. We have the hope of resurrection. Like Abel, Jesus’ blood also cried out, but in a far higher key, to God for our forgiveness. It thunders in heaven. And because of that thundering, God raised Him from the dead. We have the hope that God’s shout of wrath is not the only loud voice He has, though even there, that voice is far louder than the world’s voice. His voice of many waters thunders forth judgment on the enemies of God, but also grace for God’s people.

It is right to weep for the loss of peace and tranquility for the Christian, though not right to cling to the idol of comfort. It is right to weep for the lost, who seem to be growing more and more blind. It is right to weep for the saved, who must now find a backbone where little was required before.

On the other hand, it is right to rejoice in trials of various kinds, counting them pure joy. The church will be a lot smaller five or ten years from now. All the fair-weather friends of Christianity will be gone. The fear of man will have scared them spineless (not that they ever had a spine!). The only people left will constitute a much more pure church. And a much more pure church can have a much more positive effect on the world. All of this is happening to purify the church. Remember that world history exists for the sake of church history, not the other way around. God is heading up all things in Christ the Head. His providence is still at work, even when around us all we seem to see is evil. Evil will not have the last word. God will.

The Nature of the Surprise

There is no doubt that the disciples were surprised to learn that Jesus’ death and resurrection was the point of the Old Testament. In Matthew 26:54-56, it was immediately after Jesus says THIS (His arrest and death) was to fulfill Scriptures that the disciples left Him. Let no one therefore think the interpretation of the Old Testament to be a matter of indifference.

It is commonly debated today, however, why the disciples were surprised. If one compares this passage in Matthew with Luke 24, for example, we come across a bit of a puzzle. How can Jesus reproach the two disciples for being slow to believe all that the prophets had spoken? And in 1 Peter, why did the Old Testament writers search so eagerly in their own writings? It must be because they knew that there was something more in what they wrote than what they themselves had thought. They understood that they had written the Word of God and that God had further things to say than they, the authors, had intended.

How then, can we account for these two clear things: 1. the disciples were surprised; and 2. Jesus says they shouldn’t have been surprised? It has been a commonplace in scholarship to deny that the Old Testament has anything intrinsic to say about Jesus Christ. It is only the rabbinic, Midrashic exegesis of the New Testament that reads into the Old Testament something that wasn’t originally there. One has to achieve this on a supposed second reading.

I propose a different solution to this problem. The surprise is due to sin and a corresponding veil over the eyes of readers, not to a supposed intrinsic absence of Jesus from the Old Testament. Paul talks about this veil in 2 Corinthians 3:14. The problem is in the reader, not the text. In John 5, Jesus very clearly claims Moses wrote about Him. This suggests that even in the intention of Moses, there is something there about the promised one. There is more in the text than the intention of the human author, contrary to what many scholars think today.

So why were the disciples surprised? They were surprised because they had a veil over their eyes that was suddenly and unpleasantly ripped away. Matthew 26 is not telling us that the Old Testament is inherently Christless. It is telling us that the disciples did not understand. They didn’t really understand until Pentecost. That is when God took away their veil entirely. We need to pray that God takes away our veils so that we can understand the Old Testament and God fulfills all His promises in the New Testament.

Some Thoughts on Racism

Racism hasn’t gone away like many people thought it had. Race hatred seems to be worse now than it was when I was growing up. Or maybe I just didn’t hear about it then, and it has always been this bad. Or, the powers that be have stoked the fires of race baiting. Whatever your explanation of how it has gotten to be this bad, it’s pretty bad right now. There is a list of things that black people can’t do with zero fear and white people can. There are the Native Americans who always seem to get ignored in the discussion. There is Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and many, many others. There’s a lot of outrage. And there are plenty of people who think that the outrage should not only continue, but should escalate until “things change.” Given that there are reams of books written on the subject, I do not pretend either to be an expert, or to have the answers in any kind of fulsome way. This post is not intended even to be comprehensive in what it addresses, let alone be adequate to the subject matter. It is just a few thoughts on racism.

First things first, then, there is still racism out there. It doesn’t do us any good to deny it. One does not have to engage in “guiltier than thou” hand-wringing to acknowledge this. While we should be cautious in jumping to conclusions on any particular case, there is still racial hatred out there. And this racial hatred is not all unidirectional. There is plenty of racial hatred of whites by blacks, too. Many people would seek to justify this part of the equation by saying that it is payback. Since when is revenge a healthy, godly thing? The Count of Monte Cristo ought to have taught us better than that. All racially motivated hatred is evil. Period. It doesn’t matter which race is hating which other race for being different, that is wrong. But on what basis is it wrong? Here I want to discuss where I think the beginnings of the solution lie. This is important: the basis for claiming that all racially-based hatred is evil has to be part of the solution to that same hatred. Or, to put it another way, I believe that proper theology (in the broader sense, which would include anthropology) has the beginnings of the solution.

So how can we say that all racially-based hatred is evil? A study of Genesis 1-11 reveals that all human beings come from Adam and Eve, and all human beings come from Noah and his wife. That is the plain intent of the text. Ultimately, there is only the human race. I have been using “race” in the more popular sense in this post up to this point, because it is familiar, but here I have to raise a big caveat to such usage. Most discussions I have seen that come from the critical race theory (CRT) standpoint completely ignore the unity of the human race. The differences are the more important consideration. In contrast to this usage, I use the phrase “human race” to emphasize that all humans have far more in common with each other than we have differences. This is plainly seen when contrasting the human race with, say, snakes (not an animal I chose accidentally). So, one of the global questions in the discussion is this: are the differences or similarities more important when dealing with questions of ethnicity (and here I now substitute my preferred term, instead of “race”)? The Bible suggests that it is the similarities that are more important. Here is the second vitally important point I wish to make: the biological unity of the human race is true even apart from salvation in Christ Jesus! Now, ethnic backgrounds of Jew versus Gentile were a big deal in the Bible. Ethnic mixing of Jew and Gentile was forbidden in the Old Testament, though not for the reason of ethnicity by itself. The mixing was forbidden because of faith reasons: Gentiles were pagans. It wasn’t simply because they were Gentiles that they were rejected. After all, several books of the Old Testament tell us of Gentiles who became Jews (e.g., Ruth). As Paul would say, Jews were so internally, not externally.

If creation and the unity of the human race give us one huge reason to condemn ethnic hatred, the gospel gives us the other. The gospel is not itself the solving of the ethnic question. The gospel is what Jesus did so that sinners might be forgiven, and brought into a right relationship with God. It is first and foremost a vertical story. It is not directly about ethnic questions, but one does not have to go far into the New Testament to realize just how whopping the implications are for the ethnic question. Ephesians comes to mind, particularly. The Jew-Gentile barrier, which was the fundamental ethnic barrier the Bible addresses, is eliminated by the gospel. In Christ, the ethnic barriers are, in principle, removed. When people are brought close to God, they are simultaneously brought close together.

Conversion and regeneration, however, do not eliminate all sin. We still tend to have thoughts of the other as being alien to us. What we need is to focus on, expound, and preach from all the Scriptures the creation, fall, redemption, and glorification narrative of Scripture as it culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the larger story that can engulf and drown ethnically based hatreds in its own baptism by immersion.

There will be those who think that this analysis is hopelessly naive and simplistic. I would counter: I believe the Bible says it is supposed to be just this simple. If we are making it so much more complicated (a good example is the whole discussion about micro-aggressions), then that is our problem, not the Scripture’s. It is human beings who are making the issues so complicated that good old fashioned Matthew 18 reconciliation is no longer possible.

What about justice? What is justice, who decides, and what should it look like? Justice, by its very nature, must always be incomplete in this life. We are not omniscient. We do not know the motivations of the human heart. We may think we do, but we don’t. It is time we acknowledged this in the ethnically charged environment of today. It is time to stop making assumptions about each other. It is time to recognize the image of God in every human being, and treat that image with respect. It is time to follow the rule of law and hold criminals accountable for crime (whether citizen or police officer), and not create lynch mobs to attack people not responsible. It is time to recognize that there is no earthly way that justice can be completed in this life. God will have to be the one to make all things right, and He will. This fact should not be an excuse to prevent us from doing all we can to accomplish justice in this life. But it should prevent us from becoming so frothed at the mouth with outrage that we can no longer listen to reason and wisdom. God will make sure that all wrongs are righted. Surely every Christian must, at this point, cry out, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

What about systemic racism? That is one of the most burning questions of the hour. Is there a system in place to keep minorities “in their place?” That is disputed, even among black people. If we look at the Native American, it would seem to me that reservations are one huge system to keep Native Americans “in their place.” Why have we quarantined them for so many decades? It has not done them many favors, as far as I can see. I do not claim any expertise on this question, but that is what I see at the moment. In some contexts, I see that blacks cannot do certain things without fear that whites can do. In certain other contexts, the reverse is true. In some white communities, blacks don’t feel welcome. In some black communities, whites are not welcome. In colleges and hiring practices, there are many quota-based systems. In such a scenario, a black may be hired because he or she is black, and not because they are qualified (many blacks are perfectly qualified, by the way). Does it really help the black person to hire them because they are black and not because they are qualified? This has always bothered me. Doesn’t it put them in a situation that may make them miserable just so the consciences of the employer/recruiter can be salved? Couldn’t this be seen as using the black person for the sake of image?

On Interpretive Grids

I have addressed this question before, but I have some further thoughts on the matter I would like to share. In particular, I would like to address this question: what kind of grid do people have who claim to have no grid at all?

My own grid should be evident to long-time readers of the blog: I hold that the Westminster Standards are a wonderful summary of Scripture’s teaching. The church I serve believes that these standards function as the limits of biblical orthodoxy on the central issues. Within this field, there are variations of interpretation, just as there are many issues the Bible talks about that the Westminster Standards don’t address. The grid is not set in stone for eternity, either. It can be changed if sufficient evidence accrues for it to be incorrect on a particular point. It does not possess infallibility. It is correct insofar as it correctly summarizes Scripture. In this regard, it has the same character as preaching. There should therefore be reciprocity between the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards. Most people who hate the Westminster Standards seek to impose a barrier between Scripture and the Westminster Standards, as if it were the case that believing the Westminster Standards are a true summary of the Bible is a certain proof that such a person does not believe the Bible, or that such a person’s views of interpretation are naively limited.

This attitude (which is so widespread among biblical scholars as to be the clear majority position) helps us get at the point I am trying to make. Those who reject churchly summaries of the Bible’s teaching have a grid of their own. That grid, at the very least, involves putting up a wall between Scripture and churchly confessions of Scripture. The implicit assumption is that the church has completely misread the Bible. Therefore, any interpretation of Scripture that even overlaps with a churchly confession must be automatically wrong. This is a grid! Let me repeat that: this idea is itself a grid! To put it more accurately and precisely, it is an anti-grid which functions in the exact same way as a churchly grid does, only as its opposite. The biggest problem with this grid is its nearly complete invisibility. Those who hold to this grid believe that they have no grid at all.

So here is the truth: everyone has a grid by which they judge which interpretations of Scripture have more plausibility than other interpretations. Those who say they don’t are actually the most naive and least self-aware interpreters who are blind to their own assumptions and prejudices. The church, in general, recognizes all of this, which is why churches make confessions of faith. They want to have an agreed upon interpretation of the central issues so that the church can have a recognizable identity. The challenge for biblical scholars is this: why do so many of you despise the church for which Christ died? Why do so many of you assume that the church always has it wrong? Is it because you idolize being able to say something new and different so that people will stroke your ego and remark how brilliant you are? Is it because of the Enlightenment’s rejection of churchly authority? Is it because you have been hurt in the past by overly authoritarian churches? Is it a combination of factors? There is healing for all of these problems in Jesus Christ. But it requires a hefty dose of humility and self-abasement to come to this realization.

What Is Practical?

2 Timothy 3:16 says this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” Most people focus on the meaning of the first part of the verse, and expound in very helpful and true ways the Warfieldian sense of “breathe out.” However, what I want to focus on in this post is the whole last part of the verse, which gives us various categories (not necessarily exhaustive!) for answering the question of what is practical.

The reason I want to address this issue is that most people’s views on what is practical are much too narrow. They want to know only what is going to help them right that moment, or the next day at the latest. They want to know what is going to help them at Monday morning at 9 AM. What is practical in Scripture is so much broader than this narrow view. The problem is that those with overly narrow views will tend to “practically” cut out of Scripture any passage that doesn’t meet their definition of what is practical. That is, they won’t read that text, meditate upon it, or talk about it. As a result, they cut themselves off from well over half the Bible’s message. Furthermore, it shows that such people are, in fact, rejecting 2 Timothy 3:16. They don’t believe that all Scripture is profitable. They only believe that some Scripture is profitable. We have to expand our categories of practicality if we are going to appreciate all of Scripture and what the entirety of Scripture can do. If we do not do this, then we are omitting Scripture from our walk with God. This is very dangerous territory!

“Profitable” is another way of saying “useful.” The four words that follow (teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training) are four sub-categories of “profitable.” Teaching is profitable. Let that sink in for a moment. Simply teaching the truth is in itself profitable, even if its immediate practical value is not immediately apparent. Let’s contemplate an example of this: teaching the truth about the Trinity may not seem immediately practical in dealing with real-life crises. However, teaching the truth about the Trinity leads to worship, when done and received properly. Since worship is what we were made to do, that should surely count as practical, should it not? Rebuking is more easily seen as practical, though in individual cases, people often reject it, since they do not like to be told they are wrong about anything they do (rebuke is about incorrect behavior, and correcting is about incorrect doctrine). We need to be rebuked when we are straying off the path. Here, simple arrogance is often what gets in the way. We can’t possibly be wrong in anything we do, can we? Well, maybe we’re wrong about that. And maybe one of the reasons we’re wrong about that is that we have cut off over half of Scripture from actually applying itself to us. Training is a word that has as its analogy the world of sports. One doesn’t just try to run a marathon after being a desk jockey for years. That’s a recipe for heart failure and other serious medical problems. One trains. One gradually increases one’s endurance to the point where a marathon is possible. This is similar to the way we are supposed to ingest Scripture. We train. We are patient. We recognize that Scripture is for the long haul, not just for isolated helps here and there.

In addition to the four categories Paul mentions here, there are other ways in which Scripture can be practical. Here is a list: 1. changing our overall perspective on life and the world (this causes us to react better to life’s circumstances instead of being overwhelmed by them). This may not seem like something practical, at first, since it is not usually immediately applicable to immediate circumstances. However, our overall worldview determines how we react to anything, and our reactions most definitely are within the realm of the practical; 2. a delayed reaction application. Again, this can seem like something impractical, since it doesn’t refer to something happening right then and there. However, haven’t almost all Christians found that something they learned many years ago comes back at exactly the right time to help them? Hiding God’s Word in one’s heart does this kind of thing all the time. This is very practical, though it may not seem like it at the time when that Scripture is learned or memorized. 3. an intermittent application. This is a sort of “on again, off again” idea, wherein something may recur with irregularity (and sometimes with regularity!) and the Scriptures may address this recurring-but-not-always-active type of situation. 4. reference to others. This kind of situation occurs often with the marriage texts in Scripture seen by those who are single. The temptation is for the single person to think that such a text does not apply to them. On the contrary! Ephesians 5 tells us that the church’s relationship with Christ is intimately (!) bound up with the marriage relationship of a man to a woman. All the marriage texts have applications for the church and Christ, and hence, also for the single person. In addition, how are single people supposed to know what to pray for, in terms of their married friends, if they don’t know what the Scripture says about marriage? Another example is of believers and unbelievers. If a text of Scripture addresses unbelievers, the believer can be tempted to think it doesn’t apply to them. Usually, however, there is an altered version of the same idea that does apply to the believer. In the parable of the four soils, for example, three of them are of unbelievers. However, a modified version of those soils can be true of the believer’s heart, too.

So, let’s take the hardest kind of literature in the Bible imaginable, in terms of its practicality, the genealogy. How in the world does one read 1 Chronicles 1-9, for example? It is chock full of names, many of which we don’t see in Scripture in other places. Genealogies do several things. Firstly, they provide continuity in the narrative of Scripture. The same God is at work, and He is doing the same types of things. Genealogies point to the faithfulness of God. Secondly, the people of God in the Old Testament are the people of God, our own spiritual ancestors. This is a list of names connected to our story, not detached from us. Thirdly, any time you see a name you recognize, you’re supposed to remember that person’s story. It is a way of reminding us of many, many stories all at once. Given that genealogies are reminders, that fact in itself shows us the practicality of bringing things to our mind that we already know. We are prone to forget, and genealogies help us remember, when read properly. Fourthly, they point us, through that genealogical continuity, to the line of the seed of the woman, which is Christ Jesus, our Lord. That is where the narrative heads. Fifthly, genealogies remind us that there are no unimportant people in God’s eyes. Everyone is important, even the person who is only mentioned once in the Bible. Surely that means for us that we are not so small that God will not listen to us when we pray. Is that not a great encouragement to prayer?

So we must greatly broaden our view of what is practical. It must fit the entire content of the Bible, or it is too narrow. It must fit the entire content of the Bible, or else we are living in denial of 2 Timothy 3:16. It is amazing to me, frankly, how often I have heard, even from ministers who ought to know better, that such and such passage from the Bible just isn’t practical to preach. What nonsense! Every passage from the Scriptures is practical, as long as that practicality is 1. grounded in the meaning of the text first (if it is not, then we are probably mis-applying Scripture); 2. flows out of our understanding of Jesus Christ being the ultimate content of Scripture, via Luke 24 and John 5; and 3. sees the church as the bride of Christ such that application flows from the meaning of the text to the meta meaning of the text (Jesus Christ) to His bride, the church, and to us as members of that church.

A Response to Brandon Adams on 1 Corinthians 10

Brandon Adams has propounded a believer Baptist understanding of 1 Corinthians 10. His positive explanation of the passage is here, and his rejection of paedobaptist objections is here. It is worthwhile interacting with these ideas, since 1 Corinthians 10 is such an important passage in the debate, and any reasonable interpretations of the passage on a believer Baptist position are worthy of praise, since I have not met many believer Baptists who have formed many ideas concerning the passage. For my purposes, I will mainly interact with the rejection of paedobaptist false inferences post. I read the other post, and may refer to it occasionally, but the substance of what I wish to say concerns what he says about paedobaptist interpretations of the passage.

Almost immediately, we run into some problems, namely, with how Adams describes the paedo position. There does not seem to be a recognition that paedobaptists do, in fact, advocate some aspects of discontinuity and progression as history moves from Israel to the church. For example, paedos argue that the sign changes from bloody to bloodless (going from circumcision to baptism) because Christ’s blood has been shed, making further bloodshed unnecessary. Therefore, circumcision points forward, and baptism looks backwards. That they point to the same spiritual reality does not mean that they work in precisely the same way. Circumcision affected boys, and girls were understood to be included under their covenant head, whereas in the church, baptism is given to boys and girls alike. This kind of nuance with regard to the paedo position appears to be entirely lacking in Adams’s piece. For example, he says, “The basic thrust is that Israel and the Church are one and the same. Their situation was identical to ours.” In light of what I said above, this statement is a strawman, even with regard to Calvin’s understanding of the continuity. Calvin is talking about the spiritual situation, which is the same, undoubtedly the same. That does not mean that a carte blanche statement such as Adams’s is an accurate picture of Calvin’s views. Calvin argued that the different signs point to the same spiritual reality. That is different from saying simply that the signs are the same, and that there is absolutely no difference at all. Otherwise, why would Jesus Christ need to come at all?

Secondly, Adams goes to a great deal of trouble to try to prove that if the manna is not sacramental, then the entire paedo argument falls to the ground. It should have given him pause that when he quotes so many paedobaptists to negate Calvin’s point (which he does in the positive post and the rejection of the paedo position post), yet those paedos still argue the paedo position. Maybe the paedo position overall does not hinge on whether the manna is sacramental, and whether “the same” means “the same as what we partake of” or whether it means “they all had the same spiritual food among themselves.” To tell the truth, I have not really considered the matter of whether the manna was sacramental before reading Adams’s post, but if I had to take a position on it, I would probably say that the manna was not sacramental. It was their daily bread, and Christ does draw typological significance from the spiritual aspects of manna, but I would agree with Hodge that it falls short of sacramental significance. The typological antecedent for the Lord’s Supper is Passover, not manna, and even with Passover, there is both continuity and discontinuity. This brings us to the next point.

I am more than a bit surprised that Adams brought out the tired argument connecting baptism and the Lord’s Supper together, that if paedos treat baptism this way, then the Lord’s Supper must also be treated in this way, and we have to be paedocommunionist in order to be consistent. This argument has been so thoroughly answered by Cornel Venema’s book Children at the Lord’s Table? that it is irresponsible for a credo Baptist simply to throw this argument in paedos’ faces as if we have never considered the matter before. Almost every major paedo treatment of the subject answers this objection. Adams references precisely zero answers to this objection. The two important points that have to be said in response are these. 1. The paedo position recognizes that the two sacraments have important differences, differences strong enough to preclude treating them in the same way that credos say we must. These differences mostly involve the difference between passive reception in baptism, and both passive and active components in the Lord’s Supper. The reason for this difference is 1 Corinthians 11, which is not mentioned even once in Adams’s piece (also irresponsible, since it is directly relevant to his objection, and is part of the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 10). 1 Corinthians 11 describes how the Lord’s Supper is to be engaged. See Venema’s book for a thorough treatment of the passage. His conclusions are that 1 Corinthians 11 describes how all people are to partake, and that this requirement precludes infants from participating. So, if 1 Corinthians 10 comes in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, it wouldn’t matter whether the manna was sacramental or not, since chapter 11 would modify the participation aspect for today’s church.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

The last section of Tom Hicks’s piece critiquing paedobaptism has to do with inconsistencies in the paedobaptist position. What I will show is that Mr. Hicks does not accurately describe the paedobaptism position, and thus the inconsistencies he sees do not exist.

The first two inconsistencies are very similar in form: the paedobaptist churches exclude people from baptism who shouldn’t be excluded, if the Old Testament circumcision inclusion is the pattern. This argument becomes clearer when he states, “Paedobaptists argue that infants should be incorporated into the covenant of grace on the basis of old covenant membership.” This is a bit unclear, since paedobaptists would not argue that we are members of the old covenant. Still, what Mr. Hicks is getting at, presumably, is this form of argument that paedos use: the position of children in the Old Testament covenants is analogous to their position in the New Testament covenant. But, by putting the argument this way, it appears that Hicks has not put the argument the way most paedos would put it. Children are not baptized on the basis of old covenant membership. We would instead say that infant inclusion in the Old Testament covenants is one argument among several arguments that children of believers ought to be baptized today.

Now for the two particular cases of exclusion he mentions, spouses and servants, I would respond by saying that there are aspects of discontinuity between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant that explain the differences in how these two particular groups of people are seen. The basis of covenantal inclusion in the New Testament is faith (Galatians 3), or being the child of a professing believer (1 Cor. 7). In the Old Testament covenants, it was simply physical descent. So, for spouses, in the Old Testament covenants, they were included under the federal headship of the husband or father, but obviously could not receive the sign of circumcision, nor could any girl, for that matter. Mr. Hicks has to ignore this discontinuity in order to make the claim of inconsistency with regard to spousal treatment. If a spouse is an unbeliever today, she does not have the physical Israeli descent necessarily (presuming she was not baptized herself as an infant) to make the basis of baptism solid. But then paedos would never argue that Israeli descent would make baptism appropriate! The principle is that of households, yes, but adults who wish to be baptized should follow the pattern of Acts. Paedos merely deny that the general pattern of Acts is true for children, given what Peter says in Acts 2 about the promise being given for the children, and what Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 about the positional holiness of children of even one believing spouse.

With regard to servants, how many believing households today even have servants that can be reckoned as part of the household? Almost all servants today are day job employees who don’t live in the house they serve. If there was a situation, however, where a household had such a servant, I would be quite willing to baptize that person, though not against their will. There is no command in the New Testament to force baptism on people who reject the idea. And I would urge the servant to profess faith as well, by my sharing the gospel with him or her.

The third inconsistency Hicks sees is that paedobaptist churches will not baptize the children of non-professing baptized church members. There is direct biblical warrant for this practice in 1 Corinthians 7, contrary to Hicks’s position. Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:14 that the children of a believing parent are not unclean but holy. If that one parent is believing, then they should be professing their faith. When the church is assured that the parent is a believing parent (by profession of faith), then the children are regarded as positionally holy, and eligible for baptism. There may be a delay between the time when a believing parent says they believe and when they profess their faith in front of the church. However, I don’t know a single paedobaptist pastor who would allow a believing parent to continue indefinitely in a non-professing mode of church membership. That would be gross pastoral neglect.

The last inconsistency has really already been answered above with reference to the difference of the principle of covenant membership. Covenantal headship of the family remains similar between Old Testament covenants and the New Testament covenant. However, the basis for covenantal inclusion of households is different. In the Old Testament, it was descent from Abraham. In the New Testament, it is faith. These principles are biblically-theological related, in that faith is the new way of being Abraham’s children (Galatians 3). So, actually, I can turn the argument around and say that the profession of faith of a believer today is precisely the way we show continuity between the Abrahamic promises and the New Covenant!

I greatly appreciate the brotherly, kind way in which Mr. Hicks has engaged the paedobaptist position, and hope that, if he reads my response, he will take my critique as being given in the same way.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

In part 3 of his critique of paedobaptism, Mr. Hicks attempts to argue that a proper understanding of the regulative principle of worship is inconsistent with infant baptism. His argument runs like this: 1. The RPW forbids any element of worship not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 2. Infant baptism is not explicitly commanded in the New Testament Scriptures. 3. Therefore, infant baptism falls foul of the RPW. He goes further to try to answer some Reformed responses. Some Reformed folk might respond by saying that OT circumcision is the route to consistency with the RPW. He answers that circumcision is only commanded in the OT. A second possible response is that infant baptism is only a circumstance, not an element. His response is that infant baptism is an element.

There are many ways to pursue an answer to this part of the argument, which I consider to be the weakest in the piece. He betrays a misunderstanding both of the RPW and the doctrine of infant baptism as understood by the Reformed. Firstly, he misunderstands the RPW. The RPW is not limited only to what is explicitly commanded in the NT Scriptures. An element could be implied by apostolic example. Secondly, there is more biblical-theological continuity between OT and NT worship than he allows. OT worship most certainly had the call to worship (present in many of the Psalms), singing of Psalms, preaching of the Word, prayer, and benediction, all things that are commanded in the NT (though benedictions only by example!).

Secondly, he misunderstands the Reformed view of infant baptism. He treats it as though Reformed folk believe it is a completely separate thing from an adult baptism. It is not so. The Reformed believe there is only one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. There is not a separate adult baptism element of worship and an infant baptism element of worship. There is only baptism. And baptism is commanded. Since the efficacy of baptism is not tied to the moment of its administration, it does not matter, in Reformed theology, whether the person comes to faith before, during, or after the sign is given. That is why infant baptism and adult baptism are the same thing.

His attempts to forestall objections fall short of the mark, since no Reformed theologian I know would claim that circumcision is what makes baptism allowable according to the NT RPW. It is rather in accordance with what is argued above: 1. Infant baptism is regular baptism; 2. Regular baptism is commanded by Jesus; therefore 3. Infant baptism is in accordance with the RPW. His other attempt to forestall is equally inaccurate, since there is no Reformed author of which I am aware who would even begin to claim that infant baptism is a circumstance. Baptism is an element, as all Reformed theologians agree.

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