Saturday, 31 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 7)

(Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six).

In this installment, we finish our review of Dr. Field's first post. Here's how he ends:
Abstraction. This all brings home that the idea of the NC in 3. above is an abstraction from the (true) doctrine of God having a certain and decreed invisible big-E elect.

8. There are, however, other ways of relating these realities. For example, let the OC [Old Covenant] = the historically observable manifestation of the CG [Covenant of Grace] pre-Jesus. Let the NC [New Covenant] = the historically observable manifestation of the CG post-Jesus. Then you are able at one and the same time to assert and understand the wonderful discontinuities between OC and NC (internalisation, internationalization, greater privileges, historical actualization, human maturation, intensive and extensive access, better motivation, greater permanence etc.) and to avoid the category confusion, disconnect, denial, and abstraction described above.
This is the same argument again, using different words. Dr. Field classifies talk of the elect as being invisible and intangible, then insists that such things can't be linked to historical covenants (which are visible). This, as we have observed, completely misses the point that there are visible fruits of election which spiritually minded and Biblically educated men are competent to make a judgment on. I think Dr. Field is one of the elect; his confession of faith in Christ, his many years labouring for the Lord, his conduct as testified to by other Christians and his godly standard of speech on his blog and so forth are not invisible. The hard and fast "election=invisible, covenant=visible" distinction that the whole argument is based upon simply doesn't work.

In fact, as a Reformed Baptist I don't have a problem with the supposedly alternative characterisation of the New Covenant given above, or see it as contradictory to the one given when viewing it from another angle. It is simply a false dichotomy that Dr. Field has set up to argue that the New Covenant can either be viewed as being made with the elect alone, or being the historically observable manifestation of the Covenant of Grace post-Jesus. Dr. Field is committing an equivocation fallacy upon the words "historically observable", which he through the assumptions of the Federal Vision defines in a very nuanced way. Baptist churches aren't actually invisible - you can observe them at work, and we know that as a former Baptist Dr. Field must surely have observed some at some stage in his theological journey!

Go into all the world!

The Bible tells us that the gospel must, and will, be spread amongst every possible people group on the earth - and that we who believe in Jesus Christ are to be the ones who get off our backsides and go and do it:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:18-21)

After this I looked, and, behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9-10)
According to the reports I've seen on the news today (in relation to the photographing of an as-yet uncontacted tribe, e.g. here), there are believed to be around 100 tribes in the world who have not had any contact at all made with them.

That's 100 tribes that Christian's have to make efforts to reach. No doubt many will be murdered when they try. Nevertheless, Revelation 7:9-10 assures us that the effort ultimately will be a success. There's no greater privilege in the world than being the first to preach the gospel to people who've never heard it before.

The agents of tolerance strike again

Owners of large estates who open them to the public are exempted from inheritance tax, because of this public benefit. The Christian Institute is reporting that the "gay rights" group, Stonewall, is seeking to ask the treasury whether it can withdraw this exemption from Earl, because the said Earl doesn't agree with their views. The Earl in question is the Earl of Devon, and has already lost £200,000 a year in income for his estate because Devon County Council cancelled his licence to hold marriage ceremonies on his estate, because he would only allow actual marriage and not the state's newly invented "homosexual partnerships". That loss, though, was not enough for Stonewall, who want to see him hit harder, even without any apparent legal basis for doing so.

Ah, the agents of tolerance strike again. Or maybe I should say, the agents of mendacity. When their opinions were in the minority, they preached tolerance to those of different persuasions. Now that their friends are in power, they wish the state to carry out vindicative campaigns of persecution against those who don't tow the line.

Over the future years, Western secular democracies will see the continuance of an already well-advanced trend: the demand by homosexuals and other sexual deviants that they should be awarded "super-rights", trumping any other group, such that anyone who dares to disagree with them is officially persecuted at all possible levels. Arguments based on "tolerance" will gradually give way to arguments based on "intolerance": those who don't hold the "right" (as decided by us!) opinions should be punished. Christians will need to be increasingly aware of what's going on so that they can effectively resist it.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Here's a neat game to get into...

There is a class of campaigning atheists who believe that abusing science is their best propaganda tool. One of the neat tricks they try to pull again and again is the "let's do a scientific study to explain religion" game.

Once you spot what's going on, you'll start to wonder how these supposed lovers of free thought manage to apply so little skeptical thought to their own game. How so? Notice that these same "scientists" never run studies to attempt to explain the origins of atheism. Nope - it's always theism that they assume requires some explanation, and atheism gets a free pass. What's the assumption underlying the "scientific" study at the very beginning, before any data's come in? That atheism needs no accounting for, and that religion in humanity requires an explanation. Ho hum!

Here's such a study, published in New Scientist (a not infrequent offender in the "confusing atheism with science" stakes), in which the "researchers" wrote a computer program that they intended to model a genetic simulation, together with the assumption that there could be a "genetic predisposition to pass along unverifiable information". They programmed into their model some more of their curious assumptions, which resulted in the outcome that this "predisposition to pass along unverifiable information" gave a survival advantage.

What next? Ah, the conclusion. These "scientists" then declared that teaching religion (with no distinctions - as atheists they assume all religions are the same!) is a form of passing along unverifiable information, and then they concluded that this could be why religion survives amongst men. New Scientist duly published this so-called research, thus falsifying the thesis that all papers in scientific journals are the results of careful and searching peer review.

We do wonder, though, how it is that these skeptical thinkers never thought of classifying teaching atheism as a form of spreading unverifiable information? Or perhaps there was a paper we missed in a previous issue that showed that atheism had been finally verified? Perhaps it contained the still missing explanations for the mechanism as to how matter, time and space could arise out of nothing, how the complex machinery of life assembled itself, and how self-conscious thinking beings such as humans could arise in an impersonal atheistic universe?

Next time you see a "scientists have explained how religion spreads" news story, ask yourself this question: Why has there still not been one "why atheism spreads" investigation from these scientists? Once you ask that, you'll see what's going on: not science, but atheistic philosophy dressed up as if it were.

Hat tip: Uncommon Descent

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 5)

Denial. At which point the only rescue for the antipaedobaptist use of the nature of the NC is to deny that baptism is really baptism for the non-Elect. They get wet but you deny that they have been baptized. They take bread and wine but you deny that they have taken the body and blood of Jesus. At this point you have a New Covenant which dips in and out of relationship with covenant initiation, the covenant meal, covenant blessings and covenant threats.

Dr. Field's point here is that there he (he says) a problem which arises for the Baptist (or, to use Dr. Field's own polemical choice of terminology, "antipaedobaptist"), because we've got to say what happened at the baptisms of those who later turn out not to be truly converted. If baptism is only for the elect, and if a non-elect person goes through with the ordinance, what did they receive?

This is a common Federal Vision argument, but I confess that it leaves me totally unmoved. To the Reformed Baptist mind it addresses a non-problem. Is it meant to be a word game of some sort? Someone was baptised, but not really baptised - ha ha, gotcha, a formal contradiction? Dr. Field says that this leads to a New Covenant which "dips in and out of relationship", so this does indeed appear to be what he is saying: it leads to ambiguity.

The assumption that Dr. Field and other antiantipaedobaptists are making here and which is driving the argument, is that baptism must do something. Whoever is receiving it, in whatever condition they are in, whatever they understand by it and whatever reasons they ask for it: it must do something. Otherwise it would just, so the thinking goes, be in itself an empty ritual which we can't allow: maybe something more for certain recipients, but in itself a nothing. The Reformed antiantiantipaedobaptist though, here says "why can't we allow it? What's wrong with saying that the false believer got wet but didn't really receive any of the benefits which a believer who approaches the ordinance with faith receives?" It becomes clear, then, that what's driving the argument here is an assumed sacramentalism. Again, I point out that Dr. Field doesn't argue from Biblical texts, but from certain constructions of what the Covenant and its signs must be, which he then imposes upon the case.  Maybe a case for that kind of sacramentalism could be made from the Bible, and then examined and evaluated. In this post, though, Dr. Field is simply assuming his conclusions at the outset without making the arguments.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

R C Sproul endorses Young Earth Creationism as the only credible interpretation of the Bible and the historic Christian confessions

"RC Sproul is a well-known evangelical scholar, an author of some 60 books and numerous other resources that have been greatly beneficial to Christians. He says:
‘For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation … . Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four–hour periods.'"
Read more here:

A Holy Hush

‘If you endeavour to bring a holy hush upon people in a worship service, you can be assured that someone will say that the atmosphere is unfriendly or cold. All that many people can imagine is that the absence of chatter would mean the presence of stiff, awkward unfriendliness. Since they have little or no experience with the deep gladness of momentous gravity, they strive for gladness the only way they know how – by being light-hearted, chipper, and talkative’.
(Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. 1998. Kingsway Publications, Eastbourne. P. 51.)

Is it not for this reason that many churches seem to think it is compulsory that any possible periods of silence should be covered by having someone playing music or singing? Silence is threatening - we feel exposed, so we quickly move to fill it. But in worship we are exposed: exposed before an all-seeing God, and that's how it should be. We need to lift our minds up to great thoughts of God, rather than moving quickly to remove any potential unease with the all-pervasive music.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 5)

(Part one, part two, part three, part four).

Dr. Field continues:
Disconnect. It is clear, too, that any argument from the nature of the NC to the proper subjects of baptism is a serious non sequitur.
Why is that?
It is not that talk of big-E elect is irrelevant (it’s not irrelevant to know that God will infallibly, eschatologically save everyone he has Elected – it’s wonderful). But it is clearly impossible to aargue [sic] that baptism is only for NC members, IF those in the NC = big-E elect. We simply do not know who is in the NC if it is equated with the (post-Jesus) CG. It is soteriologically reassuring (as is the doctrine of Election) but covenantally un-usable.
This argument really repeats the argument already made in another form: the elect are only infallibly known to God - they are "invisible", and therefore if we say that the New Covenant is made with the elect we cannot then proceed to draw any conclusions about baptism because baptism is to do with the visible and tangible.

One problem in this argument is that Reformed Baptists do not leap straight from election to baptism in the arguments that they actually make. There is the intermediate step: there is visible and tangible evidence of election in a credible profession of faith. The "disconnect" only exists because Dr. Field appears to have confused Calvinistic Baptists with some varieties of hyper-Calvinism. Some hyper-Calvinists seek to require infallible signs of someone's election before baptism by asking for testimonies of dramatic internal experiences which are thought (by them) to prove election. I'd agree that this procedure is unworkable, because according to the Bible those who are elected come to faith in Jesus Christ, and faith is the essential New Covenant sign: not further experiences, whether in conversion or subsequent to it. It seems to be that in avoiding the mistake that many paedobaptist writers make in lumping Reformed Baptists in with dispensationalists, Dr. Field has driven into the ditch on the other side of the road by treating them as hyper-Calvinists instead.

The argument that Dr. Field makes here basically banishes election to the realm of abstract and practically useless. It's good, he says, to know that God will save the elect - but we can never really know who any of the elect are until we get there. I presume, though, that if we were talking about a different subject than baptism then Dr. Field would talk differently. Election is the root, but there are fruits which manifest themselves, and through which we can assure ourselves that we truly are recipients of God's grace. Yes, these fruits can be counterfeited and we can make mistakes in identifying them - but that's no reason to completely give up on the matter, as in the argument presented. If God has not infallibly revealed to us who the elect are, then what we do is to baptise those who give the evidence as far as God has explained it to us. We baptise when we see evidence of repentance and faith. We do not begin with election and then proceed to baptism. We begin with a credible profession of faith, and then proceed to baptism - and to election. Election does not come first; it can only be inferred from other factors, not made fundamental. Dr. Field's construction on things is a formulation known only to some small parties of hyper-Calvinists and a curious way for him to frame things.

The puzzling thing about Dr. Field's argument here is that he is a former Baptist and so ought to know better. Does he actually know of any Baptist churches which claim that they are infallibly identifying the elect when they baptise? Rather than just claiming that as far as it is given to men to know (which is not infallibly), they believed that those they were baptising were really in the faith? It seems rather unlikely that Dr. Field never appreciated this distinction - we are left wondering at what point he forgot about it?


What does Dr. Field mean when he says it is "unusable"? This is a key issue, because it illustrates how this argument is driven by the "Federal Vision" assumptions that Dr. Field holds to. Historically Presbyterians and other paedobaptists have not had a problem in saying that "the New Covenant is made with the elect, and their seed (children)". This formulation, though, is rejected by Dr. Field just as much as the Baptist one. Historically, paedobaptists have been happy to baptise adult converts (presuming they weren't sprinkled in infancy) when they have seen the evidence of sincere faith in Jesus, because they, like Baptists, have viewed this as the evidence that God has savingly worked in that person.

Dr. Field, though, is building his argument upon one of the premises of the  "Federal Vision": that the New Covenant must work like the Old one did, and in particular it must as easy to identify who is truly in the Covenant as it is to identify who is married and who isn't. The covenant must be "objective", to use their terminology. Anything else, it is asserted, is unworkable.

This assertion has no real basis in reality. To talk about something being unworkable is a pragmatic argument - you're saying it can't operate in the real world. Churches in the real world, though, have happily been operating in this way for many centuries. Churches have been baptising those who they thought were true believers, and later disciplining and eventually excommunicating them if the fruit of their lives proved otherwise. They didn't collapse when the first baptised person turned out to have been baptised erroneously, but they accepted that it is, during this period of the overlap of the ages, possible to counterfeit the reality of spiritual life. How is this concept unusable? Only if you've begun with the Federal Vision's premise that every covenant must be as immediately visible as marriage is. And if you've begun with that as a premise, then you're not really proving a case when you reject credobaptism - you're just arguing in a circle. That is what Dr. Field does. There's nothing exegetical in his argument - it does not come from Bible texts, carefully explained and applied. It simply comes from assuming at the outset that the Federal Vision's constructions are true, and then going from there. This may work if you're preaching to the choir, but it's not going to convince an outsider.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 4)

(Part one, part two, part three).

Dr. Field writes that any attempt (e.g. as in baptism as carried out by Baptists who believe in the perfection of the New Covenant) to say that a person has evidenced themselves to be one of the elect is "category confusion". The category of the elect operates in the realm of the "(to us) invisible and inaccessible", in contrast to Old Covenant membership, which was "at the level of historically observable categories of which we have knowledge and for which we have moral responsibility".

This assertion, though, flatly contradicts Scripture. Dr. Field has theologised himself into a hole. The Bible writers did not hesitate to declare that (certain of) their readers were elect:
4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. 6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: 7 So that you were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-7)
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)
Notice that Paul says that he was assured that the Thessalonians were elect, because of the results he had seen from the gospel in their lives. Similarly, Peter after mentioning election then mentions one of its inevitable fruits - obedience. It was not to them an illegitimate category mistake to talk about election in relationship to distinct people; rather, because election is part of a chain that includes definite results (Romans 8:28ff), it was legitimate to call someone elect when those results are seen. Dr. Field's argument excludes this kind of talk, because he has denied that election belongs to the realm of the "historically observable" - as we've seen, via importing the pre-requisite of absolute cast-iron certainty. If, though, Paul and Peter were happy to say that their readers were elect, then it is no longer feasible to say that it is a category confusion to say that the New Covenant sign is only for the New Covenant members, i.e. those who give sufficient evidence that they belong to God's elect.

Dr. Field's line of reasoning would have been a gift to the opponents of Paul in his letter to the Galatians. They reasoned that it was necessary to have an outward sign, namely circumcision, to mark one off as one of the true people of God. Faith in Jesus Christ was not enough. Paul, however, insisisted that faith itself was the New Covenant sign, sufficient to establish one's relationship to Abraham (e.g. Galatians 3:7). Dr. Field, though, should for consistency's sake label this as a category error. Faith resides unseen in the heart - only God ultimately knows who has true faith in the Saviour and who does not. Circumcision, however, is an outward and demonstrable sign that is indisputable before all men. Paul completely overlooked to make the kind of argument that a Federal Vision proponent would make: that baptism was now the sign that proved the reality of one's covenant relationship and inclusion with Abraham, and so to insist on a second such outward sign, such as circumcision, was to ask for a repeat of what had already been done. Paul instead insisted that under the New Covenant faith itself, nothing more and nothing less, is the dividing line, and that nothing more was required. Hence Baptists, understanding this logic, identify as covenant members whose who have faith - not those who've been through some outward ritual, whether circumcision or baptism. I wonder if Federal Vision advocates realise just how much their logic sounds and works like that of the Judaisers when they insist that there must be a definite, this worldly ritual that allows us to infallibly identify those who are in the New Covenant.

To be continued...

Monday, 26 May 2008

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism (part 3)

(Part one, part two).

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? Dr. Field continues:
Since we do not have access to the list of the big-E Elect, we also do not have access to the list of NC members (when those members are identified with the Elect by making NC unbreakable). It was possible to have access to the list of OC members because OC membership was objectively, historically identifiable to finite human observers: it related to things like circumcision and sacrifice and sanctuary access and self-labelling and prophetic address.
(It's worth pointing out that the terminology of "big-E Elect" only has relevance under Dr. Field's own scheme, because the Reformed Baptist teaches that under the New Covenant the distinctions amongst God's people have been abolished: there is no longer any concept of members who know the Lord and those who don't, of outward and inward Christian, etcetera. Either one is elected to salvation and manifests that election in saving faith, or he isn't, and that's it.)

So, Dr. Field observes that no mortal man infallibly knows who the elect are - and as a consequence, no mortal infallibly knows the actual members of the New Covenant. He then argues that this was different to the Old Covenant. OK - yes. If you observed Isaac's birth then you'd have no doubt that Isaac was Abraham's son and part of the covenant. When covenant membership is transmitted through the first birth rather than the second, it's easy to spot the members. This contrast, though, is not absolute and entire. A man could impersonate an Israelite and claim the name and identity of someone else written in the genealogies. His great-great-great-great-grandmother could have hidden the fact that she cheated and that her son was illegitimate, and that therefore the next ten generations were not allowed to enter the Lord's gathering (Deuteronomy 23:2). An excommunicated son and his covenant-belonging twin could leave the country, and the excommunicated one could return and take the place of his twin - would you know? Even when these things depend only upon physical and not spiritual identification, we still don't arrive at 100% certainty. This is an important point to note, because Dr. Field is going to make an argument that brushes it under the carpet.
This means that where NC members = the Elect then you have:
Category confusion. OC is identified and functions at the level of historically observable categories of which we have knowledge and for which we have moral responsibility. But NC, in this scheme, is identified and functions at the level of the (to us) invisible and inaccessible decree for which we do not have moral responsibility.
This paragraph makes a classic paedobaptist error, by making a sudden leap. Having observed that we cannot infallibly identify the elect (or under his terminology, the big-E elect), Dr. Field then leaps across a chasm and makes a conclusion based upon the idea that the elect cannot be identified at all - they are invisible and inaccessible. Faith, though, is not to be described bluntly as "invisible and inaccessible", and no Baptist of any stripe ever did so. Faith works - it results in fruit (this is the argument of the book of James). He who has the seed of God in him will love his brother, obey his Lord's commandments and avoid sin - this is the argument of the first letter of John. It is impossible for faith to not change the one in whom it has been worked. To describe it as "invisible and inaccessible" is ridiculous.

Notice also how Dr. Field has white-washed over the point I made above. The black-and-white distinction that he makes can't work. If the fact that faith can be counterfeited or if we can make mistakes in identifying it is allowed to over-ride the fact that faith can be seen and to put it into the category of the "invisible and inaccessible", then in the same way the facts that 1) one's genealogy could be faked and that 2) a man's circumcision could have been performed in one of the surrounding heathen religions rather than in Judaism ought, for consistency's sake, to be allowed to also place the Old Covenant into the realm of the invisible and inaccessible. Dr. Field's argument requires this black-and-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy - which can't be made to work in practice. In practice, paedobaptist churches, when faced with an adult convert from the world, look for signs that he has true saving faith. What else can they do? I often find that Federal Vision proponents seem to face two ways at once: they argue that Christians are identified by baptism, but then when it comes to baptism instead of baptising indiscriminately everyone who asks for it they then look for another qualification, and that qualification is... genuine faith! So it seems that, when faced with practical cases instead of theoretical discussions, they do understand that even though you can't peer into someone's heart and have to look for a "credible profession"; but when it comes to theological argument, that goes out the window and the most amazing statements like the above can be made instead.

Another major point is that this argument of Dr. Field's is entirely a priori. That is, it requires in advance of any Biblical revelation or any decision of God, that it is actually impossible for God to have a covenant in the present age with the elect, without him also revealing a list from heaven of who the elect are. It actually charges not that the Reformed Baptist position is contrary to Scripture, but that it is logically impossible in advance of any other consideration. This is a huge argument to make, and the logical leap that Dr. Field makes goes nowhere in terms of actually substantiating it.

To be continued...

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...

The New Covenant And Believers' Baptism

It seems that recently Dr. Tom Schreiner visited Oak Hill College in London, and some of his lecture material provoked blogged responses from supporters of the "Federal Vision" theology on the staff and in the student body of the college. In particular, they have been responding to the argument that the New Covenant is an unbreakable covenant - and therefore (by consequence) is a covenant made with the elect alone, and that therefore (by consequence) church membership and baptism are privileges for those who can give a credible profession of faith.

Lecturer David Field has put up six posts so far, though without mentioning Dr. Schreiner, here:
  1. Covenantal category confusion, disconnect, denial, and abstraction
  2. New covenant and antipaedobaptism
  3. New covenant and antipaedobaptism (2)
  4. "Our rule in adminstering of sacraments"
  5. "Our rule in adminstering of sacraments" (2)
  6. Covenant and election again
Plus in the midst of another post, this extraordinary comment in the context of the UK's parliamentary bill on human cloning and abortion: "More pointedly, what's the relationship between a church which excludes children from the life in the covenant and a nation which excludes the unborn from life in the world?" (here - the answer isn't spelled out for us but we assume that he raises the question because he thinks that the relationship is a strong one).

Dr. Field seeks to address what the Calvinistic Baptist typically feels is his strongest argument for baptising only those who give a credible profession of repentance and faith: the nature of the New Covenant as a perfect covenant in which Christ saves to the uttermost all those who come to him, unlike the Old in which many, though rightful members of the Covenant, yet fell short of actual salvation.

I'm glad to see this kind of interaction, because as I've commented before, it's all too typical to find that when infant baptists seek to argue against the Baptist position, they seem to hone in on refuting dispensationalism as if the two were one and the same, which leaves the Reformed Baptist profoundly unimpressed. The inevitable "answers to objections" sections in books written in favour of infant baptism rarely seem to touch the actual objections that a Calvinistic Baptist will have. So it's good to see an attempt to counter some actual arguments which those in the camp I'm in actually use - one of the values of actual face-to-face interaction with someone like Dr. Schreiner I suppose.

So, in a new series of posts I plan to review the arguments which Dr. Field and his students present. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Last Words Of Saints And Sinners

When we are thinking about death, we are thinking about the ultimate reality of our existence in this life: it ends. A couple of quotes from "Last Words Of Saints And Sinners: 700 Final Quotes from the Famous, the Infamous, and the Inspiring Figures of History", Herbert Lockyer, Kregel, 1969:

1. Augustus Montague Toplady (1710-1778), will ever be famous as the author of one of the most evangelical hymns of the eighteenth century, "Rock of Ages," which was first published in 1776. During the final illness, Toplady was greatly supported by the consolations of the gospel:

"The consolations of God, to so unworthy a wretch are so abundant; that he leaves me nothing to pray for but their continuance."

Near his last, awaking from a sleep, he said:

"Oh, what delights! Who can fathom the joy of the third heaven? The sky is clear, there is no cloud; come Lord Jesus, come quickly!"

He died saying:

"No mortal man can live after the glories which God has manifested to my soul."

2. Volatire, the noted French [atheist] and one of the most fertile and talented writers of his time, used his pen to retard and demolish Christianity. Of Christ, Voltaire said: "Curse the wretch!" He once boasted, "In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear." Shortly after his death the very house in which he printed his foul literature became the depot of the Geneva Bible Society. The nurse who attended Voltaire said: "For all the wealth in Europe I would not see another infidel die." The physician, Trochim, waiting up with Voltaire at his death said that he cried out most desparately:

"I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months' life. Then I shall go to hell, and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!"

Friday, 23 May 2008

"The Seven Deadly Sins"

A friend recently encouraged me by saying they had appreciated listening to a series I preached on the so-called "seven deadly sins". So I decided to add them to my homepage for others who might be interested.

Here's the blurb:
This is not "the" seven deadly sins, because the Bible is clear that sin itself is deadly, not just some sins. Nevertheless, Christians down the years have recognised especial danger in certain sins because unlike obvious crimes like murder or bank robbery, they can ruin us quietly and subtly. Each of these messages was accompanied by a hand-out, which you can also download.

Ugly Habits 1 - Anger
Anger - download handout
MP3 Download (4.4 Mb)
Ugly Habits 2 - Covetousness
Covetousness (Greed) - download handout
MP3 Download (4.7 Mb)
Ugly Habits 3 - Pride
Pride - download handout
MP3 Download (4.8 Mb)
Ugly Habits 4 - Laziness
Laziness (Sloth) - download handout
MP3 Download (4.4 Mb)
Ugly Habits 5 - Lust
Lust - download handout
MP3 Download (5 Mb)
Ugly Habits 6 - Gluttony
Gluttony (Over-eating) - download handout
MP3 Download (3.6 Mb)
Ugly Habits 7 - Envy
Envy - download handout
MP3 Download (4.3 Mb)

I gained a lot of help in the preparation from Stuart Olyott's sermons on the same theme -

Thursday, 22 May 2008


I think I have a few more comments to add to the short series of posts on Internet anonymity (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six).

No time for that today though. Here are three posts by Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs which have some relevance - talking about the values and dangers of transparency in a Christian minister. Those who communicate the gospel are flesh and blood and that should not be artificially hidden from the hearers, creating a false image. Here are his posts: one, two, three.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Five reasons why there must be a day of judgment

  1. Your conscience witnesses to it.

    Even when nobody else sees you, your conscience testifies, and gives you feelings of guilt. Your conscience is God's witness that you are seen, and that what you did matters.

  2. God's character requires it.

    God is a God of perfect holiness. To expect him overlook evil done in his world is to expect him to not be God. Men are careful to monitor that company orders and laws of the land are being obeyed - do we think God is less than we are?

  3. Because justice is not done in this life.

    If God's character requires justice, then there must be justice on some future day because we're all sure it isn't done in this life. Hitler "cheated justice" by committing suicide before he could be caught - but in fact he didn't, because this present age is not the age in which all the accounts are settled.

  4. Christ's resurrection proves it.

    "And the times of this ignorance God overlooked at; but now commands all men every where to repent: Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; of which he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead." - Acts 17:30-31. On the day you locate the tomb and body of Jesus, you may call into question God's judgment; until that day, you can know that God has already marked out the judge for you to know who he is.
  5. God's love to his people requires it.

    God has chosen certain people. Those people are ignored, despised and rejected by this world which prefers to glorify its own values and praise its own politicians and celebrities. This has gone on from generation to generation. God is not such a God that this either pleases him or that he will be content to never do anything about it. They will be publicly vindicated.

Democracy (part 5)

Previous posts: one, two, three, four.

The most fundamental point when we think about what the Bible has to say about government in general is an obvious one, but often missed. Today we live in pluralistic societies, where democracy is lauded as the Saviour and harbinger of all that is right and good. (This is a climate which too many Christians have uncritically absorbed, failing to compare the assumptions in it to Scripture - assumptions regarding human nature and the nature of God.) The basic fact, though, when thinking about rule (krasis) is that God is an absolute and arbitrary dictator. He is, in the literal sense of the word, a despot (despot comes from the Greek despotes, and means an absolute ruler).

Now, I suppose that some readers' instinctive reaction will be to recoil in horror at the last couple of sentences, because of the way I've phrased them. In contemporary political rhetoric, phrases like arbitrary dictator are reserved for people like Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin who set up the most miserable regimes. I could have used more familiar words, like "God is a the sovereign ruler of everything", and you'd maybe not have that reaction! But ultimately, when talking about the final rule of the universe, on the throne there is one with far more power - and also happily far more benevolence - than even the most totalitarian of human rulers.
34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that lives for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: 35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he does according to his will in the army of heaven, and  among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What are you doing? (Daniel 4)

11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will: (Ephesians 1)

9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: (Isaiah 46)
The ultimate government of the universe is not democracy - it is theocracy. God rules. In fact, it is now a Christocracy, because Jesus has received all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18ff). That is a present fact.

This means that for a Christian, democracy can only be a temporary preference. There may be reasons for thinking it better than the alternatives during the present time and circumstances; but it is only for a time, and it is only for the lower reaches of government in God's order - at the top of the system, the Saviour reigns without a rival. The God-ordained structure for this universe is that an all-wise and all-powerful one - a benevolent dictator - rules it;. One day, when Jesus returns, every knee shall bow to him (Philippians 2:10-11), not because he will get 100% of the vote in a democratic election, but because everyone will be compelled to recognise that he is the rightful ruler of heaven and earth. Hence, Christians have to feel fairly ambivalent about democracy - its days are numbered, and we're glad of it.

Next time: Rendering to Caesar

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Support for Algerian Christians

"Algeria has seen a sharp rise in official and unofficial discrimination against Christians over the last few months. Since the beginning of this year, some 20 churches have been closed; many of them have been operating officially for many years. There have also been numerous arrests of Christians, often on questionable charges."

Read more and what you can do to help here:

The wonders of language, and how human speech defies atheism

If you're a Kenyan who's been to school, you'll almost certainly (depending on what region of the country you live in) be able to speak three languages fluently: your (tribal) mother tongue, Swahili and English. I've studied a few languages, but by that standard I'm still lacking.

Once you've studied a few (I think I'm on my seventh now, despite only being able to hold functional conversations in three), some things become clear. Beyond the vast differences between them, there are certain constants. These are what make learning another language possible! There are certain facts of grammar which transcend the variations and without which we cannot even conceive of a human language. We use tenses to distinguish past, present and future with all the subtle shades in between (future perfect continuous, anyone? Or in English - "I will have been running for 1 hour"). We have the concepts of 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person, singular, plural. We have ways of expressing positive and negative; verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. The differences may be vast and one language may have quirks and features that another completely lacks. (For example, an English person can learn French without much conscious knowledge of grammar because of the structural similarities between the two languages; but trying to learn Biblical Greek without a primer in grammar would be futile). Nevertheless, these features transcend human language, wherever it is found.

If you've studied this kind of area before at any level, you'll remember that transcendence in general is a big problem for atheistic thinking. It smells of the dreaded Platonism - the idea (which goes back way beyond Plato) that beyond the immediate world of sight, taste, touch and the man jabbering at me in Swahili, there is some kind of set of ideals, the mould from which all that we can experience through sense here below is cast from. It is the idea that the material world is not the total or even the basis of ultimate reality - that there is an unseen world that is in some way superior to it and which has imposed upon the material world.

The atheist essentially has to claim that there's something necessary in matter and the laws governing matter that made the transcendent features of human language inevitable. That is, he has to say that somehow, from the moment that the Big Bang occurred, it was inevitable that the future perfect continuous had to arise - that it was built somehow into the fabric of matter, just waiting to manifest itself given enough time and the outworking of the inevitable laws. This is a very difficult claim for the atheist to make, and has to be accepted entirely on faith: no empirical proof for it exists or is even conceivable. There are plenty of living creatures in the world that communicate all that they wish to without using the features of grammar. They communicate through tone, through smell, through frequency (even in ways we cannot detect without special instruments, e.g. bats using ultrasound) - but not using grammar. Somehow, grammar is uniquely human. "Uniquely human" is another phrase that causes thoughtful atheists pain, because the Darwinist doctrine which they hold to is designed to obliterate the idea of the uniqueness of humans. The uniqueness of humans is a creationist idea - Darwinists rather hold that humans, bats and cabbages all exist as cousins in a single tree of life. But how to explain the vast gulf that separates our language from theirs, should they even have any?

No plausible evolutionary theory for the development of human language yet exists, because human languages have this irreducible minimum of complexity. There is no smooth and gradual pathway from communicating without tenses to communicating with them. The 3rd person plural cannot evolve gradually out of the 3rd person singular or the 1st person plural. Without all of the features mentioned above and many more and the various relationships between them, human language cannot exist. These features have to all exist, together, at once - the very opposite of the idea of evolution.

The Bible tells us that human languages were imposed from above rather than gradually developing from below (Genesis 11). God wished the rebellious people at Babel to not be able to communicate with each other, so he confused them - whereas before they spoke one language, from then on they spoke many. However, God also wished humanity in due time to communicate, as the good news of his mercy was to be preached through the whole world. Hence he didn't give us all languages that have nothing in common so that we could never get a handle on anyone else's speech. It's no surprise that human language, whilst amazingly diverse, has a transcendent unity - the Bible tells us so.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

I Was Here...

Here's a couple of photos of the place I've been the last week or so. Here you can see some scattered buildings; grain stores, and in the top left a school and church:

A "shamba" - someone's agricultural plot:

Here's a tragic technology-dependent white man hunting hopefully for some spot of mobile signal said to exist if you stand in just the right spot whilst walking down the right hill:

Monday, 12 May 2008

Not yet...

This post comes thanks to a rare spot of network coverage in a remote area.

Normal service won't be back before Thursday...

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Waiting for salvation

When did you first believe? Maybe last week; maybe many decades.

Whenever you first believed, if you're reading this post then you haven't yet received what you were promised. I haven't got a resurrection body, I'm not purged of all sin and I'm not perfectly enjoying God in Christ to all eternity. On the day I believed, I began waiting; and I'm still waiting now. I'll be waiting until the day I die or the Lord returns.

Waiting is one of the defining characteristics of the Christian life. Unless we start to love this present world too much, we often find ourselves wondering, why am I still here? Why doesn't the Lord take me away?

Surely the Lord has his reasons, but that's not our point right now. The point is to show that the Bible commends waiting with patience as a necessary Christian experience and virtue. The feeling of longing to be home, but knowing that there may be much time yet, is not one unknown to the Biblical writers.

And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. - 2 Thessalonians 3:5

... you lack no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ - 1 Corinthians 1:7

And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.- Romans 8:23-5

For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. - Galatians 5:5

For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. - 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
Christians are waiting - it's what they do. Is it difficult? Yes. But what else can we do? To whom else shall we go? Let us wait, developing patience, until the day when waiting will be no more. Often the last thing I say before going to sleep at night is a line from a hymn: "a day's march nearer home". It reminds me that whilst we wait, the wait is finite, and 24 hours have been removed from it each time the lights go off.

At the end of days, my sanity returned to me...

On the fourth day, the electricity came back - yay! Fever is gone - hurrah! (I still feel very weak). Problems with documents, though, are interminable.

One evening, we used up the juice in the laptop watching The Man From La Mancha, a version of the classic story Don Quixote, about a man for whom reality becomes too much and he enters a fantasy world of his own making where he is Lord Don Quixote, chivalrous knight and formidable foe of evil. Managing to be both hilarious and deeply touching from one moment to the next, I loved it. I also learnt after all these years where the expression "tilting at windmills" comes from. The film ultimately asks the question - is it more insane to see the world as it really is, or as it ought to be? Who is the madman - the one who resigns himself to what is, or the one who lives in an alternative reality of his own making?

The vast bulk of the stories that man tells have their origin in man's knowledge that something better ought to be. We tell stories about the fight between good and evil, about heroes who bravely stand against unending evil and about final and ultimate battles where every wrong is at last put right. Every story is different, and has its own twist - but each story has familiar themes rising to the surface again and again. Why do we do this? Is it not because, deep down, we know?