Saturday, May 14, 2005

Some thoughtless thoughts on Baptists

Paul Owen has just posted “Some Thoughts on Baptists.”

After having identified himself as a “convinced Presbyterian”--keep your fingers crossed--he goes on to explain what he would be were he not a Presbyterian. A Baptist is at the very bottom of his ladder, two rungs below Roman Catholicism.

One hesitates to speculate on which he would opt for were he forced to choose between the Baptist and the Mormon faith. Given his high church sympathies, given that Mormon ecclesiology is far more Catholic than Baptistic, and given that, by his own lights, a Mormon can be a true believer in Jesus Christ, the prospects are less than promising.

Before proceeding further, permit me to lay my own cards on the table. Historically, a Calvinist could be a Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, or Welsh Methodist. And, speaking for myself, I think that each of these can be a valid vehicle of the Reformed tradition. Let me also say that although I am not, and would never be one, I often attended a Lutheran church (WELS) because I enjoyed the expository preaching and the traditional style of worship.

Owen then offers a two-paragraph rebuttal of Baptist ecclesiology and sacramentology. I must say that I don’t see the point of this exercise. Owen cites a few well-worn prooftexts for his position.

I won’t take time to comment on whether these are to the point or not. Rather, I’ll just note that our Baptist brethren, including the Reformed Baptists, are only too familiar with these verses, and have repeatedly construed them in a manner consistent with Baptist ecclesiology and sacramentology.

So for Owen to toss these off, as if nothing had ever been said by the opposing side in way of a counter-interpretation, is not a serious argument. So who is the audience for this supposed to be? For those who already agree with Owen, and don’t care how poor the reasons are?

I’d also like to comment on one statement in particular: “To reject infant baptism is to cut oneself off from the historic Catholic Church–something which Reformers like Zwingli, Bullinger, Bucer, Calvin and Luther simply were not willing to do. They saw their roots in the Catholic Church of the preceding centuries, not in some esoteric remnant of believers whose lineage could be narrowly traced backwards in time to the New Testament.”

Now, even if you support infant baptism, this is a specious argument for infant baptism. The very fact that the Protestant Reformers broke with Rome entails a measure of discontinuity with the past. A Baptist is no more or less cut off from historic Christianity than a Lutheran or a Presbyterian. For that matter, Trent has very little use for the Augustinian tradition--especially the parts of most use to Calvin.

It should also be unnecessary to point out that Calvin’s argument for infant baptism is quite different from Luther’s. In addition, different Presbyterians give different reasons for infant baptism.

Now, when different paedobaptists offer different and, indeed, mutually exclusive arguments for infant baptism, is it entirely honest to put the Baptists on one end of the scale, and all the paedobaptists on the other end? Isn’t Owen, in effect, keeping his thumb firmly pressed down on his end of the scale—and then exclaiming that the Baptist position has been duly weighed and found wanting?

The reading was so unbalanced because his selection criteria were so unbalanced—counting many as though they were one. The only thing this proves is that if you tilt the scales in your favor, you get a reading favorable to your position.

And since communio sanctorum doesn’t give the opposing side a fair opportunity to respond, I happy to invite our Baptist brethren, and especially Reformed Baptists, to comment here on Owen’s sneak-and-retreat piece.


  1. You've had no problem responding, and we're happy to entertain letters to the editor at Communio Sanctorum just like publications (web-enabled or not) have been doing for a hundred years.

    >>>Kevin D. Johnson

  2. Owen has never impressed me as being anything but a confirmed contrarian, and I gave up even paying him any attention after about three articles, give or take. Does he actually have an audience, outside of a few fellow reformed whatsit bloggers with pretentious Latin names?

  3. Hey uhhh Ransom...don't you have a blog with a "pretentious Latin name?

    Reformed Baptists using Latin...ooohhh...dangerous. :)



  4. Does anybody here know where I can get some really good coffee?


  5. Keep in mind that Communio Sanctorum has a far more restrictive feedback policy than Triablogue, so Kevin's invitation is less inviting than it sounds.

  6. Pedantic Protestant,

    Your subtlety is impressive!

    But it might be lost on those who know and use Latin regularly.


  7. I had heard that Mr. Johnson owns a coffee biz in one of my favorite cities. Just making conversation, namely, a "coffee conversation."
    I wasn't trying to be subtle.

    Never had a cup of coffee in my life. In Biblical terms: "I have not known a cup of coffee." Yet everybody swears by it. What joys of coffee am I missing?


  8. Let's see ... communio has been up for about 60 days and has received no letters to the editor?

    Oh wait: it has been up for about 60 days and has not -published- any letters to the editor. As opposed to all those other publications (like TIME and Christianity Today, I guess) which have been in print during that period -- and the other publications around for a hundred years -- which have, in fact, printed letters to the editor in alomst every single edition.

    I think it is always very high-minded to try to establish a policy for letters to the editor -- but most publications do it because of the ratio between space available and the avalache received, which is small:huge. If I had an editorial policy that resulted in ZERO letters seeing the light of day, I'd wonder if I should bother reviewing all those letters just to reject them all. It seems like a waste of time to try to implement a policy that is all work and no results.

  9. On what points do you take Trent to be non-Augustinian or anti-Augustinian?

  10. Daniel,

    In answer to your question, Trent is anti-Augustinian in its synergism. There is a tension in Augustinian theology--a tension between sovereign grace and sacramental grace.

    Trent resolves this tension by opting for Augustine's doctrine of church and sacrament at the expense of his doctrine of sin and grace.

    You can also see this in the suppression of Jansenism, which represents a post-Tridentine effort to carry on the Catholic Augustinian tradition. But after Trent, that was no longer tolerable.

  11. I'm afraid that you need to look at Augustine's doctrine and distinction between nature and grace, which is a metaphysical one. You can see this in all the best Augustinian scholars: De Lubac, Rist, Teske, Bonner, Gilson, O'Donnell etc. A sharp distinction between sin and grace (as/or nature) just was the Pelagian position. In fact, a good place to see the determinism in Pelagianism is the discourse between Julian and Augustine on Matthew 7 on the good and bad tree. Julian thinks the two trees represent one's nature, while Augustine it is the will that becomes fixed in habit by the exercise of virtue. Augustine held to synergism through-out the ordo salutis on the acquisition of justice even though one's perseverance was undergirded by an inevitability of being elected (given the good being absolutely simple, this was the only way Augustine could give man's nature stability). Same can be said for Thomas, Scotus, Molina et al. Jansenism holds to a Pelagian anthropology, they just differ formally because of original sin. I'm afraid contra Warfield that there is no such thing as Augustine's doctrine of the Church vs. Augustine's doctrine of grace. They are the same thing, which is why Augustine says that Christ and his Church make up one whole Christ.

    Some good books to get one's head around on this issue are:

    De Lubac's Augustinianism and Modern Theology

    McSoreley's Luther: Right or Wrong?

    And the first couple of chapters of McGrath's Iustitia Dei on Augustine.


  12. PP,

    Well since I'm sympathetic with pomo concerns - your intent in that original post is really quite irrelevant with regard to my interpretive interests. As the author - you have been severed completely from the text - in fact, you don't even exist anymore in relation to it. It's mine (as a reader) to do with as I please. Besides, even if I did care about your original intent, the indeterminacy of language itself renders that intent irrelevant for all intensive purposes. You see, Lessing’s “ugly ditch” doesn’t just irreparably divide contingent historical truths and eternal verities – it’s also descriptive of the vast chasm that separates us as communicative agents my friend.

    Do you feel violated as the author? Hmmm, perhaps that's why some have pointed out that the interpretive endeavor is essentially an ethical enterprise...

    And don't even get me started on the blatantly obvious fact that you silly evangelicals/fundamentalists don't seem to realize that your own views concerning revelation are heavily invested in a particular theory of language, meaning, and truth (and all of them the stepchildren of the evil modernistic era!). Even the ignorance and superstition of the pre-modern era is preferable to the devilish influence of modernism!

    Ok – I’m starting to feel like a filthy heretic – the above was all said in jest and with a heavy dose of sarcasm (with the exception of the observation that interpretation is an ethical endeavor)!


    Having fun at the expense of the pretentious is just too irresistible (and the basis of such pretension has utterly escaped me I must confess - hence my expression of appreciation for your [unintended] subtlety).

  13. Postmodernism has deconstructed my ability to come up with an objective interpretation of Der Feursprecher's post, let alone my ability to come up with a snappy response to Der Feursprecher's post.

    If only I had opened my mind to things beyond the Modernist mindset, perhaps this horrible tragedy could've been avoided.


  14. Daniel,

    A few quick comments since this issue is more important to you than it is to me.
    1.I notice that “all the best Augustinian scholars” happen to gravitate towards Catholicism and its satellites. Needless to say, a Catholic qua Catholic has a vested interest in construing Augustine consistent with Catholicism. I would not deny that the early Reformers also had a vested interest in construing Augustine consistent with Protestant theology. But simply to assert that your interpreters are better than ours (e.g., Calvin, Cunningham, Rainbow, Turretin, Warfield) is not an argument. I do not acknowledge truth by definition.
    3.As to Warfield in particular, he doesn’t merely lay claim to a certain interpretation of Augustine, but documents his interpretation by direct appeal to Augustine. So does Calvin. Of course, they could both be wrong. But they are not merely asserting the superiority of their interpretation.
    4.To say that Jansenism is Pelagian while Pelagianism is deterministic is a thesis which cries out for so many qualifications that I don’t know what is left over after the dust has settled.
    5.I also notice, once again, that you like to repackage my categories in your categories. I talk about sovereign grace and sacramental grace, while you talk about the absolute simplicity of the good. We’re talking at cross-purposes here. Is there or is there not a tension between sacramental grace and sovereign grace? Is this or is it not a tension in Augustinian theology, as well as Thomism, Molinism, Jansenism, &c.?
    6. Nature/grace and sin/grace are not interchangeable categories. So we cannot substitute one for another in the interpretation of Augustine.
    7.Since Augustine believes in imparted or infused grace rather than imputed merit, there is some continuity between Augustine and Trent. I never denied that. But there is also no small measure of discontinuity, for Augustine was also, from what I can tell, a five-point Calvinist (pardon the momentary anachronism). And if we extend the comparison and contrast from Augustine and Trent to Augustine and Vatican II, the discontinuities are even more pronounced.
    8.Finally, let’s assume you’re right. You asked me why I said what I did about Trent in relation to Augustine. I gave you my reasons. If I’m wrong, I have nothing in particular to lose, for, to me, historical theology is a descriptive rather than a normative discipline. My take on Rome’s relation to Augustine is of some bearing on an internal critique of Rome (of which there are many more factors than Augustine alone), but there is also an external critique, based on Scripture—which, for me, is paramount.

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