Monday, 26 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 2)

(Read the introduction to this series here).

We're beginning with Dr. Field's first post, "Covenantal category confusion, disconnect, denial, and abstraction".

I notice that Dr. Field pulls a polemicist's trick by, instead of using the normal label "Baptist", branding those who don't agree with his position as "antipaedobaptists". This is a well-known rhetorical ruse to make the person you're arguing against look bad: label his position negatively instead of using the self-description he himself uses - because in our postmodern age to be negative is to be bad, nasty, bigotted. This can often be seen in Internet apologetics: Roman Catholic apologists routinely call Protestants "anti-Catholics", Mormons call their critics "anti-Mormons" instead of accurately describing whatever they're positively advocating, and so on. I really doubt that when Dr. Field was a Calvinistic Baptist he chose to label himself as an "antipaedobaptist", or attended the "First Anti-Paedobaptist Church of <Wherever>". To make the point for my readers who aren't Baptists, do you ever describe yourself as an Anti-Baptist or have sermons in your church on "the Biblical doctrine of anti-Baptism"? Still, let's pass on. I'll just presume that Dr. Field feels he's on the back foot - that's OK!

My brother Dr. Field also makes a curious final comment in which he speculates about whether there really does exist anyone who reasons from the nature of the New Covenant to the legitimate subjects of baptism. Given that his posts are (as his students' own blogs show) a response to the lectures of a visiting lecturer, Dr. Tom Schreiner, who argued precisely that, this comes across as quite weird. Has Dr. Field never read any literature by "antipaedobaptists"? Did he read any when he was a Baptist himself (does this mean he adopted the paedobaptist position without researching the alternative)? In charity I must admit that I might completely misunderstand his final paragraph and what it's saying, but after repeated readings in the context it just comes across as strange.

OK. That's enough poisoning the well now (another polemicist's ruse!). What of the actual substance of the post?

First of all, Dr. Field sets up his terms (Old Covenant, New Covenant, Covenant of Grace), and the contrast which Reformed Baptists will often make between the New Covenant and what went before it. The New Covenant is (so say these Baptists) an unbreakable covenant: one of its greatest glories is that Christ is a perfect Mediator who infallibly ensures the eternal salvation of all those on whose behalf he Mediates. He is actually in the presence of God having finished the work of sacrifice once and for all - and nothing he requests on behalf of those who are under his Covenant headship can fail. (This is me expanding a bit - Dr. Field just highlights the unbreakable versus breakable nature). The Old Covenant had members who were ultimately damned because of the imperfection of that Covenant; the New Covenant will not have any such members.

This leads Dr. Field to this observation, following from the RB (Reformed Baptist) premises about the above matters:
6. But now, in effect, you are making the NC to be identical with or a manifestation of the CG (in a certain period of history, i.e. post-Jesus).
I can only think that Dr. Field had a mental slip here unless I've majorly misunderstood something; does not every Reformed Christian - everyone who holds that there is such a thing as the Covenant of Grace - whether Baptist or not, hold that that the New Covenant is the manifestation of the Covenant of Grace in present history? What else would be - is there some other covenant presently operative? I'm presuming this is a slip - that Dr. Field did not mean the "or", but just to say that "you are making the New Covenant to be identical with the Covenant of Grace (in a certain period of history, i.e. post-Jesus)."

That in itself would be acceptable to Reformed Baptists, as long as an unintended nuance isn't put on "identical". The Covenant of Grace has, we hold, been fully, finally and perfectly revealed in the New Covenant. Previous administrations were preparatory and partial - the New Covenant is glorious and complete. It has a perfect mediator, a perfect sacrifice, a perfect revelation, perfect promises, and so on. There are no glories of the CG which remain hidden to be revealed or actualised in a future age. Previous Covenants were mixed in nature or partial in efficacy or extent; the New Covenant is not, but is completely efficacious towards all the elect of God (who are alive in its days, that is).

Point 6. then leads Dr. Field to the statement:
7. And this way you have category confusion and disconnect and denial and abstraction.
i.e., at this point, by admitting point 6, you've fallen into all kinds of miserable mistakes. How so? Next time...


Stephen said...

Brother David,
I believe that John Tombes, the prolific Baptist polemicist, writing during the time of the Westminster Assembly, referred to himself and his party as 'antipaedobaptists'. One of Tombes' interactions was with Stephen Marshall to whom Dr Field refers in this post.

Given this historical context and Field's reference to it, I don't think you should read too much into the use of the term 'antipaedobaptist".

David Anderson said...

Hmmm. I think if you have to go to the 17th century to find another example of the use of the term, that's a case of the exception that proves the rule.

Tombes' baptist catechism is very good: