Thursday, September 14, 2006

Are Reformed Baptists Reformed?

I was sent this series of posts from a number of people who have asked me to comment on them. I normally would not like to address material such as this, but because it was brought to my attention (and because the issues raised are potentially divisive) I'll offer a few quick remarks:
Why Baptists Are Not and Will Never Be Reformed

I know it is a harsh title for the overwhelming group of "Reformed" Baptists that attend Ligonier Ministries every year. I confess at one time I endorsed that label during the familiar transitional stage that most if not all my friends have experienced. However, after considerable analysis of the Reformed tradition and Reformed Theological distinctives it is imperative that we maintain this sharp line between Reformed and Baptist. For at least one simple reason: to cloud the issues is to make our Reformed heritage cloudy.
I think it is rather interesting that Mr. Brito (the author) speaks of the Reformed heritage (in those words) here, but then later applies the label 'Reformed' in such a narrow and monolithic sense that he ignores the diverse heritage which makes up the term.
Though I wish that the whole world would embrace the Reformed tradition I acknowledge that different contexts affect ecclesiological, eschatological, and sacramental views. As a former Baptist I am deeply indebted to all my background for their sincere commitment to the Scriptures. I have learned much from them and still do (believe it or not John MacArthur does make some valid points sometimes and of course in greater proportion so does Piper). However, the issues at stake are deeper. Our ecclesiology is abundantly different and our sacramentology also distinguishes us immensely from our brothers and sisters.
The issues that are 'at stake' here are not 'deeper' but peripheral. They are not central to an essentially Reformed understanding, but find their place on the circumference.
These are just two examples; many more could be listed. But if our structure, leadership, connectionalism is different from Baptists (referring to ecclesiology) this will highly differentiate our approach to the church. And further, if our understanding of community life and covenantal life differ (sacramentology) our experience of the bread and wine take on an emphatic distance from our Christian friends.
This is all true, but beside the point. The question isn't whether or not Baptists and Presbyterians are different, but whether they are both Reformed. We aren't free to apply our own definitions to historic terminology. Most Presbyterians would reject Mr. Brito's narrow definition of 'Reformed,' as some already have done so explicitly.
Some will forthrighly accept this distinction, but others will affirm that our differences are nothing more than nuances.
The extent of the differences is certainly important, but what is more important is accuracy in definitions. The extent of the differences matters only as much as the scope of the definition allows. So whether or not Mr. Brito views the differences as major or minor is, again, beside the point. What he needs to provide is an historically based definition of the word 'Reformed' which allows him to hold to his contentions.
...When this happens, a church can be in a Reformed denomination, it can belong to a strictly Reformed presbytery or even teach TULIP at Sunday School, nevertheless it ceases to be wholeheartedly Reformed.
This is an assertion, not an argument.
...Continuing now my infamous discussion on why Baptists should never consider themselves Reformed I would like to offer a few observations. I will be borrowing some ideas from Paul Owen at Communio Sanctorum.
When Paul Owen is cited as one of your sources, you might want to rethink your position. This is not because of the person of Paul Owen, but the position of Paul Owen. Is it not telling that Mr. Brito must find support, not from R.C. Sproul or Ligon Duncan, but from Paul Owen? Is Paul Owen 'Reformed' according to Mr. Brito's position? Is Paul Owen's exegesis of John 6 or Acts 13 Reformed exegesis (even in the broad sense)?

Mr. Brito goes on to argue that Calvinistic Baptists fail to embrace all of the tenets of the well-rounded worldview of Calvinism. But he tells Baptists nothing which they do not already know. Unless Mr. Brito defines a Calvinist as 'one who embraces everything which Calvin taught,' which would be an a-historical definition, his comments are true but irrelevant.

In the third part of his series, Mr. Brito addresses issues that are neither distinctively Baptist nor distinctively Presbyterian. So his arguments here cut both ways, to all who call themselves Reformed. But even here he once again fails to give us a basis for the scope of his definition. He can highlight differences all he wants, but unless those differences, given the definition of Reformed, necessarily contradict what it means to be Reformed, his statements are again true but irrelevant.

The fourth and last part of his series is much like what precedes it, failing to provide a single historical basis for the scope of his definition. This last post opens the door to an endless discussion of issues that I would rather leave unaddressed. I'll just quickly point out that his transition from the sacraments to the secularization of the church is a non-sequitur.

In short: in defending the Reformed heritage Mr. Brito fails to take into account the heritage. Yes, he tells us much of some Reformed distinctives, but little of how those distinctives played out into the broader realm of church history. There really is no benefit to his statements. What is a name, anyway? If his point is that Baptists do not agree with all of the distincives of historical Reformed theology, then he tells us nothing new. So there is not much to gain from his contentions, other than an alteration in terminology, and the potential to increase division in the body. This should be avoided, not at all costs, but at least at the minimal cost of abandoning your narrow and a-historical understanding of what it means to be Reformed.

8 comments:

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  3. Evan,

    Thanks for posting this. Regardless of Mr. Brito's opinion I'll still consider myself a Reformed Baptist (since the label "Particular Baptist" has seemed to fall by the wayside). Some narrow Presbyterians don't like to recognize that there is room for differences among the "Reformed". That term can be used for Christians who recognize both the unity and the diversity of the covenants, as well as those who reject infant baptism. Mr. Brito sounded somewhat confused to me. C. Matthew McMahon of A Puritan's Mind had a similar series and his argumentation was at least cogent (though unconvincing). Sam Waldron defended the use of the term "Reformed Baptist" in the foreword of his book "Baptist Roots in America" (at least I think it was in the foreword). The bottom line is though, that the doctrines we disagree on are important, but not essential, and certainly should not be divisive...

    S&BL

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  4. thanks for posting on this VERY important issue. I hope that Christians spend more time, emotional energy, and resources worrying about such important distinctions.

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  5. Anon:

    Your point, stated sarcastically, is, in fact, my point. Why did Mr. Brito find the need to spend 4 posts on such a needlessly divisive issue?

    So don't fault me for picking the topic. I didn't pick it.

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  6. I'm a URC paedo guy, myself. But if I had to choose between communing with quasi-Reformed Anglicans like Paul Owen or a Reformed Baptist crowd, I'd pick the RB crowd 10 times out of 10.

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  7. The Red Rocker9/14/2006 7:59 PM

    Mr. Brito come across to me as a particular contempory type of Reformed individual who is blatantly on his way to Rome. They lately find an avenue in the Auburn Avenue Theology to soften the transition, yet the vehemence with which they launch into the AAT (or FV/NPP, etc.) against what they ostensibly still self-identify as appears to be the new signature of these types.

    And, you just can't quote Paul "We're all still under the Pope" Owen without it being a deliberate comming-out-of-the-theological-closet act.

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  8. The Red Rocker9/14/2006 8:01 PM

    Mr. Brito comes across to me as a particular contempory type of Reformed individual who is blatantly on his way to Rome. They lately find an avenue in the Auburn Avenue Theology to soften the transition, yet the vehemence with which they launch into the AAT (or FV/NPP, etc.) against what they ostensibly still self-identify as appears to be the new signature of these types.

    And, you just can't quote Paul "We're all still under the Pope" Owen without it being a deliberate coming-out-of-the-theological-closet act.

    ReplyDelete