Sunday, September 21, 2014

Saving babies

I recently got into an impromptu Facebook exchange on infant salvation:
  • Steve Hays Moore's criticism is illogical. If someone is born with total depravity, that doesn't mean he dies with total depravity. If God choses to save a dying infant, he regenerates the infant. Justifies the infant. Sanctifies the infant. Glorifies the infant. Total depravity makes people liable to hell, but saving grace counteracts total depravity.
  • Steve Hays 
  • John Moore "You are born a sinner, you will always be a sinner even if regenerated (Westminster Confession), and the only way to be free of sin is when you die and are rid of your sinful flesh (body)" is the most damnable doctrine ever to seep it's way up from the pits of hell and into the church and the hearts of men!"
  • So is Moore a perfectionist? That's hard to live up to! Calvinism doesn't locate sin in "the body." By itself, there's nothing sinful about the body. It's what you does with your body that can be sinful. It's the mind that's sinful. The body simply does what the mind directs.

  • Steve Hays
  • Joel Tay Onan Coca, "I would say that it is inconsistent, since the issue is where we get the idea that a baby can be saved apart from a justification by faith--and whether a person can be elected apart from faith."
  • In Calvinism, election is unconditional. It's traditional Arminianism that espouses conditional election (i.e. election based on foreseen faith). In Calvinism, every elect person is elected "apart from faith." God doesn't elect someone on account of their faith. Faith is not the basis of election.
  • Rather, faith is an indirect result of election. Those whom God elects, he graces with other spiritual blessings–including the gift of faith. You might say faith is one *goal* of election. 
  • In Calvinism, moreover, regeneration is the cause of faith. So regeneration is more ultimate than faith. The elect can be regenerate before they exercise faith. 
  • Biblical commands about the necessity of faith are addressed to adults. Many biblical commands are specific to a particular class of individuals. Circumcision is addressed to males, not females. So you can't just assume that the necessity of faith is applicable to everyone, regardless of their cognitive status (i.e. babies, the developmentally disabled, senile Christians, comatose Christians, Christians with brain cancer).
  • Finally, if God saves babies, they presumably mature in the afterlife. They will reach the age of discretion, at which point they will be able to exercise faith.
  • Keep in mind, too, that it depends on the definition of faith. There's a sense in which, according to Scripture (e.g. Hebrews, 1 Corinthians), faith is supplanted by sight in the world to come. 
  • Therefore, the salvation of dying infants is not inconsistent with Calvinism.

  • Steve Hays
    Joel, are you attempting to interact with what I wrote? If so, your response is very incomplete. To begin with, even if the elect *will* believe, that fails to address the timeframe. When or where will they believe? In this life or the afterlife? In addition, you're sidestepping much of what I said. Is that because you don't have a specific counterargument?

  • Steve Hays
    Let's take a comparison, which I already hinted at, but you ignored. As a rule, those who die in a state of unbelief are hellbound. But does that apply to Christians who cease to believe due to brain cancer or senile dementia?

    Steve Hays
    So, Joel, are you asserting God never regenerates anyone below the age of discretion? If so, what's your basis for that blanket claim?

  • Steve Hays
    So are you saying babies exercise faith? Babies believe the gospel? What do you mean when you deny an age of discretion? Do you mean humans undergo no cognitive development from conception and/or birth to maturity? Does a 2-year-old have the same cognitive ability as a 20-year-old?

  • Steve Hays
    BTW, what's your evidence that regeneration immediately issues in faith, regardless of age?

  • Steve Hays
    If there's no such thing as an age of discretion, then what does this passage mean? 
  • "15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted" (Isa 7:15-16)?

  • Steve Hays
    Your response suffers from multiple confusions:
    • i) To begin with, you don't seem to grasp what the phrase "age of discretion means." You act as if it's synonymous with the "age of accountability." Is English your second language? Actually, "age of consent" is "synonymous with "age of reason." "Discretion" has primary reference to intellectual aptitude/awareness, not responsibility. The imputation of Adam's sin is irrelevant to the age of discretion inasmuch as the age of discretion is not synonymous with the age of accountability. 
    • There is, of course, some connection between intellectual development and moral development. If a 2-year-old steals a toy from the store, and a 20-year-old steals a Rolex from the store, one committed a crime and the other did not. The law rightly draws that distinction. 
    • ii) LIkewise, the imputation of Adam's sin is irrelevant to the question of infant salvation inasmuch as infant salvation, in Reformed theology, takes the imputation of Adam's sin for granted. Although babies are guilty in Adam, elect babies are redeemed by the blood of Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. 
    • iii) You also have difficulty following your own argument. I introduced the age of discretion in relation to the issue of faith. You're the one who keeps harping on faith. So I'm responding to you on your own terms. Faith presupposes a certain level of cognitive development. To require doctrinal faith from a 1-year-old is contrary to nature. The age of discretion is entirely relevant to the intellectual capacity or incapacity to exercise faith. Try to keep up with your own side of the argument.
    • iv) You miss the point about Isa 7:15-16. The passage indicates that below a certain age, a human lacks the cognitive development to know the difference between good and evil. By parity of argument, a human below a certain age lacks the cognitive development to exercise doctrinal faith. That's the connection.
    • I didn't introduce the verse to establish that dying children go to heaven. Rather, I cited the passage to establish the age of discretion–a phrase which seems to confuse you.
    • v) If you don't see why a baby can't believing the gospel, then you're not trying very hard. Do babies understand doctrinal propositions? Are babies simply tiny adults? Adults in baby bodies?
    • The Lukan text about the prenatal Baptist doesn't say he assented to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. 
    • vi) "The idea that a baby can be justified apart from faith is nothing more than a denial of sola fide." You're repeating objections I already dealt with. That's a tacit concession your part that you lost the argument. 
    • vii) I actually haven't discussed whether all or even some dying infants go to heaven. You've forgotten what the issue was. The question at issue is whether infant salvation is consistent with Calvinism. At this point I'm not discussing whether Calvinism is true or whether infant salvation is true. Rather, I'm merely discussing the original issue, which is one of internal consistency. 
    • Perhaps you reject Calvinism, but that's beside the point. The issue is whether the possibility of infant salvation is logically incompatible with Calvinism. Whether Calvinism is true is a separate issue. Whether infant salvation is true is a separate issue. At the moment, the issue on the table is the logical relation between these two propositions. 
    • You seem to be conditioned to respond to position that's not actually on the table at the moment. You need to adapt to new challenges.
    • viii) Infants are a special case because infants naturally lack a certain level of cognitive development necessary to believe doctrinal propositions. From a Christian standpoint, infant mortality inevitably raises the question of their eternal fate.


    1. Like most Calvinists I believe in the election and salvation of the infants of believers who die in infancy.

      I do, however, see the real tension if one posits the regeneration of infants temporally before conscious faith and the resulting justification. According to Reformed theology, regeneration is indeed causally prior- regeneration causes faith which causes justification. But isn't there a problem to say that there is a class of people who are, at one point in time, regenerate yet not justified (by faith)?

      1. I don't think that's a problem when dealing with humans who are *naturally* incapable of exercising faith. Babies would be in that condition apart from the Fall.