Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Rebuttal Part II: A False Dichotomy and a Shaky Premise

          The false dichotomy is the most prevalent kind displayed in persuasive writing. Chapter 2 of the Blue Book expounds on a great example: Covenantalists believe in a hermeneutic that leads to continuity within Scripture while Baptists support discontinuity. The false dichotomy then rests on a cracked foundation: the idea that covenants between a superior and an inferior are always conditional.

          “The question of how we should interpret the Bible is at the very heart of the baptism debate—indeed it is the foundational issue.” BB at 15. Justus is spot on with this assessment. Interpretational methods will lead to particular conclusions, or at least to a particular range of conclusions. We may be interested, then, to see how the paedobaptist chooses to interpret Scripture. Here, Justus is quite helpful, as he gives us the “Reformed or Covenantal Method.” BB at 16. This method “sees a basic continuity between the Old and New Testaments, with the New flowing out of the Old and building on its foundation.” BB at 16-17. One could hardly argue with such a method of interpreting Scripture. Though we will soon learn that when it comes to baptism what the paedobaptist means by this hermeneutic is that there is a basic continuity with the way by which God chooses who His people will be—the children of His people are His people—and how they should be marked. 

          To display the strength of his interpretational method, and to give the veneer that the only conclusion to be drawn from the stated method is paedobaptism, Justus describes for us the alternative: “The Dispensational or Baptistic Method.” BB at 18. This language is intentionally provocative. Not all Baptists are Dispensational, and the Baptist church predates Dispensationalism by hundreds of years. The way in which Justus uses the word “dispensational” could be read as pertaining solely to epochs of time rather than the theological grid of Dallas Theological Seminary (he uses a lower case “d”), but he knows good and well people will conflate the two. What he says is this: “the dispensational method of interpretation emphasizes the discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.” BB at 18-19. Justus goes on to say that these scurrilous dispensational interpreters of Scripture view the New Testament as a “complete replacement of the Old Testament,” which contains a delicious irony given Dispensational criticism of Reformed believers adhering to what the Dispensationalists call a replacement theology. BB at 19.

          While I appreciate the irony, the proffered dichotomy is risible at best when it comes to baptism. Justus claims his continuity method of interpreting Scripture gives the paedobaptist clear insight into Paul’s statement to the Galatians “that we are ‘Abraham’s offspring’ and ‘heirs according to promise.’” BB at 21. And he says that we know what Paul means by “we are the true circumcision” because of our going to the Old Testament. BB at 21 (citing Philippians 3:3). 

          Justus’s use of Galatians to prove his point about scriptural continuity leading to a practice of paedobaptism is curious. For Paul says, “it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Gal. 3:7. Paul then goes on to describe how the promise of faith precedes the Law, and that the inheritance of those who believe is not based upon the Law, but upon the promise. See Gal. 3:15-22. In fact, the whole point of Galatians is to put a stop to the Judaizers who were forcing people to be circumcised and follow the Law in order to be Christian. “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christy will be of no benefit to you . . . . For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Gal. 5:2, 6. 

          In this last quote from Galatians we can readily see the feckless nature of the paedobaptist’s argument in the New Testament. Paul’s explication to the Galatians regarding the need for circumcision being obviated never addresses the idea of baptism having replaced circumcision as the outward sign of God’s people. Paul addresses circumcision a number of times in his ministry, and never says the practice should end in light of baptism. Instead, he always, invariably, makes the point that salvation comes not through the Law but by grace and faith in Jesus Christ. Why does circumcision mean nothing? Because all that means anything in Jesus Christ is “faith working through love.” Gal. 5:6.

          Justus’s use of the Phillipians verse is equally frivolous. Justus declares, you’ll recall, that continuity between Old and New Testament is critical so that we can know what Paul means when he says “we are the true circumcision.” What’s funny is that Paul says that those who are the true circumcision are those who reject physical circumcision. “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Phil. 3:2-3. Did you catch that last part? He’s saying that to have physical circumcision is to put confidence in the flesh. Justus would have us believe that physical circumcision, after Christ has risen from the dead, is placing confidence in the flesh, while physical baptism is simply following our Lord in the replacement of an older sign.

          I’m not saying we shouldn’t baptize, as I’m sure you know. Instead, I bring this up to illustrate the inane conclusion one would have to draw from Justus’s use of this text---we must know our Old Testaments to know what “the true circumcision is,” and this knowledge should somehow should lead us to the incite that baptism is the new circumcision, which Paul’s whole argument against circumcision is that outward signs have no bearing on salvation or the identity of God’s people. 

          Are covenants between God and Man always conditional?

          Justus moves from his plea for continuity into an explanation of what a covenant is. When a covenant is between and inferior and a superior he argues that it is a conditional promise. BB at 23. This is poppycock, and one need look no farther than the first book of the Bible to disprove it. While God certainly makes conditional covenants with Adam and Moses, His covenant with Abraham is unconditional: “[Eliezer] will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir. . . . Now look toward theheavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them . . . . So shall your descendents be. . . . Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterword they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. . . . To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.” Gen. 12:2-6, 13-15, 18. There’s not an “if” in all those promises. God’s promise to Abraham was completely without condition, and in spite of Abraham’s repeated efforts to muck it all up God kept His promise. Now, I must note, to Justus’s great credit, that he accurately describes the eternal covenant of the Godhead by block-quoting Spurgeon; but the idea that all of God’s covenants will people are conditional is an inexcusable error (or sloppiness). 

          But Justus wants us to know that God does not only covenant with individuals, but also with “the various corporate spheres of human life, such as households and society.” BB 25. Indeed, and communal covenants are the bailiwick of the paedobaptists. Yet they seem to think that Baptists believe some innumerable collection of individuals have been redeemed, when in fact we hold that a very particular, peculiar, and in fact holy community has been redeemed: the Church. And that very large community gathers together in smaller communities known as churches. 

          Finally, we read a heading that resonates with the addled Baptist brain: “What Does This Have to Do with Infant Baptism?” I know you’re reading, breathless with anticipation, but what follows that header are four paragraphs that express it’s just simply vitally and critically important to have a proper interpretational method when addressing doctrine, and one should choose the “covenantal interpretive principle [which] provides a consistent and biblical method for interpreting the Bible” while eschewing the dispensational/baptistic model of interpretation which will lead to a conclusion that God “had more than one plan” for redemption. BB at 28-29. 

          Of course, had God multiple plans for redemption He wouldn’t be consistent in His soteriology, making Him unorthodox (and not actually God at all, if you take the logic to its conclusion) so naturally one wouldn’t want to adopt an interpretive model that led to such a result.

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