Saturday, July 23, 2005

Cobelligerence

One of the demands made by critics of “Evangelical cobelligerence” is that those who support it make a Biblical case for cobelligerence.

Now, in one respect, this is a perfectly reasonable request. After all, if sola Scriptura is our rule of faith, then don’t we need some Biblical warrant for what we do?

As I say, there is nothing wrong with this request. The problem is not with the nature of the request, but the source of the request. For this debate is going on within the Reformed Baptist community--although there are parallel debates in other bodies such as the OPC.

For example, suppose someone demanded that you make a case for the deity of Christ. There’s nothing wrong with that demand. But it’s the sort of demand you’d expect to come from the lips of a J-Dub.

You would be rather surprised if that demand came from the lips of a Reformed Baptist. Why? Because he already belongs to a theological tradition with a track-record on certain issues. So you take many things for granted. You don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel each time you have a conversation.

It would be rather odd if a Reformed Baptist demanded of me that I make a case for credobaptism. Presumably he believes in credobaptism himself. That’s one of the reasons he’s a Reformed Baptist. He believes that the case has already been made for credobaptism.

What is surprising about Camp’s demand is not the nature of the request, but the source of the request. For some of the things he is saying play right into the old polemical Presbyterian stereotype of Reformed Baptists as crypto-Anabaptists or crypto-Dispensationalists.

Instead, for example, of asking what reasons Albert Mohler can give for cobelligerence, it might clarify matters to turn the question around and ask why an Anabaptist does not believe in cobelligerence.

Well, for one thing, an Anabaptist doesn’t believe in cobelligerence because he doesn’t believe in common grace. For him, there is no overlap between the church and the world. These occupy separate and antithetical domains.

For another thing, he doesn’t believe in cobelligerence because he doesn’t believe in covenant theology. For him, there is no carryover from OT ethics to NT ethics, from OT statecraft to NT statecraft.

Now, this is a position with a certain measure of internal consistency to it. If it’s wrong, it’s consistently wrong.

By contrast, one of the things which sets a Reformed Baptist apart from an Anabaptist is a belief in common grace and covenant theology. And these are the theological presuppositions of cobelligerence. So is the burden of proof on Dr. Mohler or Steve Camp?

There is also the question of the necessary level of Scriptural specification to warrant whatever what we do. Do we need specific warrant for everything we do? Or do we only need to show that our particular practice is a special case of a general Scriptural norm?

The Bible is full of general norms. But it often leaves the concrete implementation up to the discretion of the believer. And that’s because the application varies with the situation.

We do many things which are not spelled out in Scripture. Their justification lies in the fact that these are particular means of facilitating general ends.

For example, the Bible never specifies the creation of creeds. And there are some Christians who oppose human creeds. But Reformed Baptists have a creed--the London Baptist Confession of Faith.

The justification for this custom is that it represents a reflection or extension of the church’s teaching ministry, which is mandated in Scripture.

Over the centuries, Evangelicals had devised a number of adaptive strategies designed to apply general Scriptural norms to our specific circumstances.

Formal ordination boards, with oral and written exams, have no express warrant in Scripture. Mass media like World Magazine, the Founders Journal, and CampOnThis have no express warrant in Scripture.

Seminaries like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have no express warrant in Scripture. Denominations like the SBC have no express warrant in Scripture. One could go on and on, but you get the point.

In a case like this, the necessary burden of proof is keyed to the necessary level of warrant. And their interrelation does not entail a one-to-one correspondence between a specific Scriptural injunction and a specific application, but rather, a one-to-many correspondence between a general Scriptural injunction and a wide variety of applications, each of which is a special case of the general injunction. That’s the operative framework.

3 comments:

  1. Who is the Anabaptist in the story? Camp?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi jc,

    Cf. http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/07/holy-batmania.html#112207084520926741

    ReplyDelete
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