Thursday, June 09, 2005

Reformed Baptists and other Devil-worshipers

I confess that I find it mighty hard to recognize a Reformed Baptist in the hornéd, pointy-tailed, sulfur-breathing, cloven-footed creatures of the night described by “Reformed Catholics” as typical representatives of Reformed Baptist theology.

Until fairly recently, most-all of the best theologians have been Presbyterian. The only Baptist theologian of comparable stature was the learned and redoubtable John Gill. But the times they are a-changin’.

I used to own Roger Nicole’s taped series on systematic theology before I gave it away to a former pastor of mine. You can also take the measure of Nicole from such books as Our Sovereign Savior and Standing Forth. As I recall, Nicole has two earned PhDs (one from Harvard), and enjoys a magisterial command of European theology in the original languages.

Others whom I read and appreciate are D. A Carson, Jonathan Rainbow, and Thomas Schreiner. Rainbow is into historical theology, while Schreiner and Carson are first-rate NT scholars.

Then there are the men I’ve privileged to know on personal basis, such as Paul Helm (our greatest living Reformed philosopher), Greg Welty (a seminary prof. in the phil. dept.), Michael Sudduth (who’s held numerous professorships in philosophy), James Anderson (a double PhD in computer science and philosophical theology), and Phil Marshall (a PhD candidate in LXX studies). All of them are better men than I, and all them keep their Mephistophelian genes well-concealed. Tail pinned back. Horns sanded down. Cloven feet discretely shod. Sulfuric breath scented with Listerine.

Then there are epologists like James White and Eric Svendsen. With his public-speaking skills, White could easily “trade up” to be the star preacher of a megachurch—another Rick Warren or Bruce Wilkinson--but he has, instead, given his life to countercult ministry—a ministry guaranteed to make you ten enemies for every friend. Likewise, Svendsen could easily teach at some SBC institution, but he, too, has devoted his exegetical talents to countercult ministry.

More often than not, the critic of a Reformed Baptist seems to feel that he has discharged his intellectual debts once he classifies a Reformed Baptist as an heir of the Radical Reformation. No need for further argument. The label does all the heavy-lifting.

There has always been some hostility in some Presbyterian circles towards their Reformed Baptist kin, and this seems to have rubbed off on the “Reformed Catholics.” Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d almost suspect that “Reformed Catholics” are trying to prove their own Reformed paternity by joining with the Presbyterians in ganging up on the Baptist end of the Calvinist continuum.

But another reason, I surmise, for the intensified animosity, is that the Reformed Baptists are rapidly gaining on the Presbyterians, if not overtaking them. In the past it was easy for a Presbyterian to treat a Reformed Baptist as the kid brother—a nuisance to have around when big brother goes out on a date, but still no threat to Presbyterian primogeniture.

Nowadays, however, Reformed Baptists are giving the firstborn some serious competition. In addition to high-profile preachers like John MacArthur and John Piper, the Reformed Baptist contingent is achieving ever-increasing representation in the SBC. And when you hitch up Reformed theology to the raw horsepower of the SBC, the potential is there to leave the OPC, URC, or PCA coughing and trailing in the dust. Is envy the twin brother of enmity?

16 comments:

  1. I don't have time at the moment to give you a complete answer. Traditionally, RBs do affirm covenant theology. Compare and contrast the Westminster Confession with the London Baptist Confession. New Covenant Theology is a recent aberration. Just as Presbies are predisposed to FV, RBs are predisposed to NCT. For an RB critique of NCT, go to the following link and scroll down:

    http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/welty/

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  2. Great post!

    Okay, my great post probably doesn't mean as much as a "good post" from Phil Johnson, but take it for what its worth. ;-)

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  3. The historical irony here is delicious. "Reformed" Baptists, members of a tradition that ONLY exists because of its own absolute radical intolerance for social connections with those it deems less pure than itself, have the temerity to complain about how others are treating THEM. Hilarious.

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  4. What? The "reformed catholic" movement is motivated by envy, Steve? Can that be what you are saying?

    I don't believe it. I'm going to have to lay down for the weekend and sleep that one off -- it's too much to bare!

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. "Reformed" Baptists, members of a tradition that ONLY exists because of its own absolute radical intolerance for social connections with those it deems less pure than itself

    Don't you just hate being right, Steve?

    Incidentally, in lieu of Blogspot lacking a proper, native trackback service, I gave this post a nod as one of the more interesting things I read this week in the blogosphere.

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  7. XENOPHON: "Why do Reformed Baptists reject Covenant Theology?"

    This gave me a chuckle. I don't mean to be consdescending, but have you ever read the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith? It's thoroughly covenantal!

    Covenant theology's main distinctives are its advocacy of the covenant of works, the covenant of grace, the covenant of redemption, the Old and New Covenants as administrations of the covenant of grace, and the perpetuity of the moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments (i.e. the Decalogue). Here are the standard statements of these doctrines:

    (1) The covenant of works is set forth in WCF 7.2, 19.1 (cf. also WLC 20, 22, 30 and WSC 12, 16); 2LBCF 20.1.

    (2) The covenant of grace is set forth in WCF 7.3, 14.2, 17.2 (cf. also WLC 30-32, 36, 57 and WSC 20); 2LBCF 7.2, 14.2, 15.5, 17.2.

    (3) The covenant of redemption is set forth in 2LBCF 7.3, 8.1.

    (4) The essential unity of the Old and New Covenants as administrations of the covenant of grace is set forth in WCF 7.5-6, 8.6, 11.6; 2LBCF 7.3, 11.6, 21:1. (But see WCF 19.3, 20.1, WLC 33-35 and 2LBCF 21.1 for a statement of the diversity between these covenants.)

    (5) The perpetuity of the moral law as summarised in the Decalogue is set forth in WCF 19 (cf. also WLC 91-148 and WSC 39-81); 2LBCF 19.

    The debate between Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists on covenant theology comes down to their view of baptism, and *this* comes down to a dispute over *the degree* to which we affirm continuity between OT and NT (and not over *whether* there is fundamental continuity in *many* respects; both sides agree that there is).

    Interestingly enough, although the covenant of redemption is a large part of historic covenant theology, it finds no mention in the Westminster Standards. But it is clearly affirmed in the 2LBCF. In this respect, the Reformed Baptist confession is more covenantal than the Presbyterian ;-)

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  8. I was surprised to learn that Roger Nicole is a member of a feminist outfit called "Christians for Biblical Equality."

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  9. Well, I guess we must make allowance for the fact that, as a man of French extraction, Nicole has a soft spot for mesdemoiselles! Just think of Maurice Chevalier as a seminar prof. On second thought...don't!

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  10. Thank you for the kind thoughts, Steve. Just to clarify to some of your readers, I am not technically a "Reformed Baptist." I am soteriologically "reformed" and I am ecclesiologically "baptistic"; but I am not a member of the RB denomination. I do classify myself as a proponent of NCT (though I'm not quite sure why xenophon characterizes it as "half-baked--it's actually internally quite consitent :). I prefer the first edition of the LBC due to its exclusion of Sabbath-keeping (which I think the NT clearly indicates was fulfilled in Christ, much the same as the sacrifices and temple worship were), which keeps me from subscribing unreservedly to RB theology. Having said that, I'm probably closer to RB than anything else.

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  11. Thanks, Eric. For polemical purposes, Reformed Catholics have made us all honorary, card-carrying members of the Radical Reformation! :-)

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  12. What I've said about the role of the law in my essays on the "4-Door Labyrinth" and "Four forms of Christian ethics" is applicable to NCT.

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  13. XENOPHON: "One thing: since you mentioned the Westminster Standards specifically the Covenant of Redemption is mentioned in the Sum of Saving Knowledge."

    Yes, yes, I know! My last remark there was partly tongue in cheek, thus the winking smiley. Although I do think it is significant that they didn't think it was important enough to elevate to confessional status. At this point, the "Sum of Saving Knowledge" is a summary of a doctrine that doesn't occur in the confession and catechisms :-)

    XENOPHON: "Question: is it just the issue of baptism that separates RBs from Presbyterians? I mean, isn't it a big factor if a person is dispensational too? I would assume many RBs hold to dispensationalism, but I'll stand corrected if not."

    Err, it's precisely because the 1689 LBCF is covenantal that it's not dispensational. Indeed, most of the Reformed Baptists I know are amillennial or postmillennial.

    I agree, however, that the nomenclature can be confusing. Who should we label a Reformed Baptist? A Baptist who believes in the five 'solas' of the Reformation, but is dispensational and non-Sabbatarian? Or a Baptist who not only subscribes to the five solas but to the 1689 LBCF?

    There's an ongoing debate about this, but I think a plausible case can be made for 'yes' in both cases. Or let me put it this way: I wouldn't deny the label 'RB' to someone in the former camp who wanted that as his designation.

    There are bigger things to worry about. The confessions are there; all you have to do is ask a few questions to figure out where someone stands.

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  14. What I've done in "Four forms of Christian ethics" is to offer an exegetical evaluation of four rival Christian value-systems. To characterize an exegetical analysis as "In your own way you are as empty as any postmodern fools. And frankly I suspect it all has to do with a lack of effort to actually read the Bible complete over and over. This is how you lose sight of the forest (or never see it to begin with)," is a highly irresponsible dismissal of the argument. If you disagree with what I wrote, then offer an exegetical counter-argument. Address yourself to the specific exegetical reasons given in support of my position.

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  15. I do not delete comments simply because they are critical of me. Notice that I didn't delete all of your comments, even though some of those were critical of me as well.

    But I do have a stated editorial policy of deleting comments which contain expletives (abbreviated or not), as yours did. That's the reason your two comments got the ax.

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