All About the Cognitio Dei Insita

All About the Cognitio Dei Insita

The orthodox have usually maintained a threefold theology, what Francis Turretin called a “threefold school of God,” that of: nature, grace, and glory (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 5). The theology of nature, or natural theology (theologia naturalis), has as its object the created world through which God has revealed Himself (Rom. 1:18-20). And as such it is performed inevitably by the unregenerate in some measure. The theology of grace, or pilgrim theology (theologia viatorum), belongs to the church and has as its primal object the Scriptures, yet obviously does not exclude natural theology. And the theology of glory (theologia beatorum) is the beatific vision received by the saints at their glorification.

Continuity Between the Writings of Francis Turretin & Herman Bavinck

Within the first category of natural theology, Turretin understood there to be a bifurcation between two distinct sub-categories of natural knowledge: innate knowledge and acquired knowledge (Ibid., p. 7). There has been a lot of chatter over the last week, and certain is it to increase in the coming month, about the nature of this innate or “inborn” knowledge of God. The Reformed of the post-Enlightenment era, especially those in the 20th century, emphasized this innate knowledge leaning heavily upon John Calvin’s sensus divinitatus, (the divine sense). Herman Bavinck says:

Calvin made a distinction between general and special grace and explained all the good still left also in sinful humans in terms of the former. He specifically believed that an ‘awareness of divinity’ (sensus divinitatus) was present within the human mind “by natural instinct (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pp. 61-62).”

Bavinck goes on to understand this sense or awareness as a “conviction” that there is a God “naturally inborn.” Quoting Calvin further, he says, “people cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him.” He goes on to clarify, “‘Implanted knowledge of God’ does not mean that all people are immediately endowed by God himself with sufficient knowledge so as to be able to dispense with revelation… we possess both the capacity (aptitude, faculty) and the inclination (habitus, disposition) to arrive at some firm, certain, and unfailing knowledge of God.” Speaking to how humans obtain and develop this knowledge, Bavinck writes, “Human beings gain this knowledge in the normal course of development and in the environment in which God gave them the gift of life.”

There is no evidence Bavinck understood the innate awareness of God to be a kind of pre-downloaded ectypal revelation of God, which some other theologians and philosophers in the 20th century would refer to as immediate knowledge. And in this way, there is continuity between Bavinck and Turretin on this point. Turretin, after all, held that, “it is certain that no actual knowledge is born with us and that, in this respect, man is like a smooth tablet (tabulae rasae) (Institutes, vol. 1, p. 6).” Turretin, like Bavinck, did not think of this knowledge in terms of rationcination or discursive per se, but neither did he think of it as inborn, pre-downloaded content, calling it instead, “apprehensive and intuitive knowledge.” It is an indemonstrable form of knowledge which still must arise, and is thus not immediate. The creature finds themselves believing in various moral principles and a higher power, not originally but intuitively.

The Discontinuity Between Turretin, Bavinck, & Other 20th Century Theologians

Another branch of speculation formed in the 20th century off the same concept used by Turretin and Bavinck, the sensus divinitatus. Though the concept of epistemic immediacy comes into Bavinck’s corpus, as we’ve seen above, he tempers such language with the orthodox understanding of the cognitio Dei insita (innate knowledge of God). This would not be the case with those such as Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen, both of whom would make knowledge of God immediate in the apparently Socinian sense. Where this divide becomes quite apparent is in the notion of derived vs. underived knowledge. Both Van Til and Bahnsen thought immediate knowledge, in terms of which they understood innate cognition of the divine, was underived in terms of one’s possession of it. They thought it was content original or natural to the creature. Bahnsen, for example, says, “Unbelievers have a true knowledge of the existence and character of God, which is justified by the evidence directly apprehended in God’s clear and inescapable natural revelation of Himself (Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 261).”

Notice, Bahnsen does not say the unbeliever has this knowledge through the evidence directly apprehended in God’s natural revelation, but only that the unbeliever’s knowledge is justified by such. In the same place, he calls this “immediate knowledge,” and opposes it to derivative knowledge, “This is immediate knowledge, rather than knowledge derived by inferences and discursive arguments.” Van Til says, “In the sensus divinitatus, then, we find a welling up within the consciousness of man an immediate awareness of the fact that God is the creator and sustainer of the world (Ibid., 186).” But Bahnsen had just described Van Til’s doctrine of natural revelation as consisting of “the created order… a medium of constant, inescapable, clear, preinterpreted information about God… (Ibid., 185).”

This is odd because Bahnsen wants to insert a medium into an equation concerning immediate knowledge. These two things are mutually exclusive. One cannot have immediate knowledge and have mediate knowledge at the same time and in the same relationship. Such would be a violation of the law of noncontradiction. Van Til appears to agree with Bavinck and even Turretin in the above quote until he equates the sensus with immediate knowledge. If Van Til believed that, according to the sensus divinitatus, rational creatures find welling up within their consciences an awareness of a God, as Bavinck likewise held, then he would certainly be incorporated into the canon of Protestant Reformed orthodoxy on this point. But he did not.

The Significance of Immediate Knowledge

There are massive implications for asserting an immediate knowledge of the divine, rather than a derivative knowledge through one medium or another. The greatest implication is perhaps a slip into pantheism. Pantheism holds that God and the world are identical in essence. To know the world is to at once know God because God and the world are the same thing. For one to have immediate knowledge, it would seem the world would itself need to be God, either the conscience of man is God, or the stars in the heavens are God, or both. Either God and the stars are the same thing, leading to immediate apprehension. Or God is known through the stars leading to mediate apprehension. But these propositions cannot both be true.

The precommitment to immediate knowledge is, perhaps, one reason why Van Til irrationally makes the ontological Trinity both the starting point and the conclusion of the theistic proofs, “To be constructed rightly, theistic proof ought to presuppose the ontological trinity and contend that, unless we make this presupposition, all human predication is meaningless (Ibid., 621).” A surprising statement to be sure. On this assumption, the trinity must be known through nature. And for Van Til, that would mean innately so. Why is this the case? Because if something is presupposed in an ultimate sense, then it is not concluded in any sense. It is held prior to and in back of any and all discursive or intuitive conclusions. This begs the question of the place of faith and the function of Scripture. And it gives the impression that Van Til thought the doctrine of the trinity is a mixed article (revealed in both nature and Scripture rather than Scripture only), right along side the goodness, power, and wisdom of God.

More importantly, however, it shows the subjectivism baked in to Van Til’s line of thought. Unless a mental presupposition is made, then all predication is meaningless. Thus, the ontology referenced by the predication would also be meaningless unless the proper epistemological disposition were to be adopted. How can this not end in utter relativism at best or magic at worst? When one thinks rightly (presupposes the right thing), predication becomes meaningful, or so thought Van Til. In his attempted escape from “neutrality” Van Til has banished any and all common objectivity. This is why we hold that Van Til has confused epistemology with ontology. At bottom, the validity of ontological statements are determined by epistemological posture.

Van Til reveals a capitulation to Hume’s skepticism when he writes, “The words ’cause,’ ‘purpose,’ and ‘being,’ used as universals in the phenomenal world, could not be so used with meaning unless we may presuppose the self-contained God (Ibid., 621-622).” The meaning, not only of the words, but necessarily the concepts they signify, are completely reliant upon our thought. This, of course, is not all Hume’s influence. For our purposes here, Hume only cast doubt upon causality, a doubt which Van Til erroneously appears to take seriously. But the influence upon Van Til is also Kantian (and critical) evinced by the assumption of a separation between objective meaning and phenomenology. What would reconcile the noumena to the phenomena, for Van Til, is a belief or presupposition.

Conclusion

The rejection of immediate “inborn” knowledge by the Reformed orthodox was more than a mere nuance of thought, indicative of their quasi-scholastic leanings. It was a conscious effort to rightly place human knowledge within the context of reality by maintaining, implicitly or explicitly, the distinction between epistemology and ontology. Van Til and Bahnsen’s rejection of derivative knowledge was more than just a minor mistake, confusing the implicit rationale and intuition with explicit argumentation (another Van Tillian confusion to be sure). It is a total confusion if not identification of the phenomenal with the noumenal, the epistemological with the ontological. And this, I believe, was unintentional on Van Til and Bahnsen’s part, but it is most certainly an example of what happens when mistaken assumptions are (almost) taken to their logical ends. Would Bahnsen ever say reality depends upon what we think of it? My guess is he would answer, “No, but our interpretation of reality depends upon what we think of it,” or something along those lines.

There is, therefore, a blessed inconsistency here. Van Til and Bahnsen are certainly not pantheists or relativists, nor do they claim Kantian idealism. However, the things they’ve said would most certainly land them in all three camps if they were being logically consistent. If meaning is determined by what we think of it, then there is no objective meaning at all. For this reason, I believe the Reformed Scholastics of the 17th century, and those who maintained continuity with them on this point, among whom were Bavinck, Warfield, and Hodge, did a much better job at holding epistemology in its proper place in relation to ontology than do Van Til and Bahnsen. And one of the ways they did this was properly defining and situating the cognitio Dei insita, or the innate sense of the divine. If immediate, implied is pantheism. If not, then men know God mediately through common or shared inborn principles. The former we reject, the latter we affirm.

 

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The Monogamous Marriage of Christ and His Church Defended, from Baptist History

The teaching that Christ has one Church is integral to a right understanding of the Person of Christ. Christ must have one Bride only. Moreover, His body must not be divided, fragmented, or depreciated in any way which would imply multiple faiths, Spirits, etc (cf. Eph. 4). It must also be said that this one body and Bride is not an earthly, visible institution, but an invisible, presently inaugurated reality received by faith in the present, to be seen with glorified eyes in the eschaton. Or, to put it positively, the one Bride of Christ presently instantiates, or becomes visible, only in local assemblies or churches.

Yet, the one Church of Christ comprises the whole of the elect people of God at all times and in all places. To deny the one Church of Christ comprised of all the elect, at all times and in all places, without qualification, is to deny Christ a monogamous betrothal to a single Bride, to affirm His body is still broken (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5; Mk. 10:8; 1 Cor. 6:16), and to deny the definite or limited atonement, contra Ephesians 5:25-27.

Below, it will be proved that Baptist history testifies to this common conviction. And while we Baptists have historically put much more practical emphasis on the local church, the unquestionable commitment to a single Bride of Christ may be clearly seen in the documentation below. Many of the document titles double as links to digital versions of source documentation. What is not linked is still sourced underneath the quotation. This symbol (*) corresponds to important commentary or clarifying subject-matter also viewable underneath the relevant quotations.

That Baptists Have Always Affirmed One (catholic) Church, Body, and Bride, We Affirm by the Following Proofs— 

Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528):

The church is sometimes understood to include all the people who are gathered and united in one God, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and have confessed this faith with their mouths, wherever they may be on earth. This, then, is the universal Christian corporeal church and fellowship of the saints, assembled only in the Spirit of God, as we confess in the ninth article of our creed (Nicaea). At other times the church is understood to mean each separate and outward meeting assembly or parish membership that is under one shepherd or bishop and assembles bodily for instruction, for baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Balthasar Hubmaier, Balthasar Hubmaier, (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1989), 351-352.

The Schleitheim Confession (1527): 

The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one body of Christ and who are called brethren or sisters… 

In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed [as follows]; All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head is Christ.

Whoever has not been called by one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with all the children of God’s church, cannot be made [into] one bread with them, as indeed must be done if one is truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition.

The Writings of Menno Simons (1496-1561):

But we teach and maintain by the word of the Lord that all true believers are members of one body, are baptized by one Spirit into one body (I Cor. 10:18) and have one Lord and one God (Eph. 4: 5,6).

All who are born of God, are partakers of the Spirit of the Lord, and are called into one body of love, according to the Scriptures, are ready by such love to serve their neighbors, not only with money and goods, but also, according to the example of their Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, in an evangelical manner, with life and blood.

Hubmaier, Balthasar; Denk, Hans; Simons, Menno. The Anabaptists: Excerpts from the writings of various authors (Anabaptist Writings Book 2) . Solid Christian Books. Kindle Edition. 

The Dordrecht Confession of Faith (1632):

VIII. We believe in, and confess a visible church of God, namely, those who, as has been said before, truly repent and believe, and are rightly baptized;* who are one with God in heaven, and rightly incorporated into the communion of the saints here on earth. These we confess to be the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, who are declared to be the bride and wife of Christ, yea, children and heirs of everlasting life, a tent, tabernacle, and habitation of God in the Spirit, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ Himself is declared to be the cornerstone (upon which His church is built). This church of the living God, which He has acquired, purchased, and redeemed with His own precious blood; with which, according to His promise, He will be and remain always, even unto the end of the world, for consolation and protection, yea, will dwell and walk among them, and preserve them, so that no floods or tempests, nay, not even the gates of hell, shall move or prevail against them-this church, we say, may be known by their Scriptural faith, doctrine, love, and godly conversation, as, also, by the fruitful observance, practice, and maintenance of the true ordinances of Christ, which He so highly enjoined upon His disciples.* I Cor. 12; I Pet. 2.9; John 3.29; Rev. 19.7; Titus 3:6, 7; Eph. 2:19-21; Matt. 16.18; I Pet. 1.18, 19; Matt. 28.20; II Cor. 6:16; Matt. 7:25.

*This represents an error in Anabaptist thought which was rejected by later Baptists in that the one church of Christ is not visible, but invisible, cf. 2LBCF, 26.

*Some may want to argue the local church is assumed throughout the Dordrecht Confession. However, this is unlikely since, in the article above, “the church” under consideration will never be prevailed upon by anything, including the gates of hell—which no doubt occurs from time to time with regard to local churches. Yet, the one Bride of Christ is preserved in all ages.

A True Confession (1596):

XVII. That in the meantime, besides his absolute rule in the world, Christ hath here in earth a spiritual Kingdom and canonical regiment in his Church ouer his servants, which Church he hath purchased and redeemed to himself, as a peculiar inheritance (notwithstanding manie hypocrites do for the tyme lurk emongest the) calling and winning them by the power of his word vnto the faith, separating them from amongst unbelievers, from idolatrie, false worship, superstition, vanitie, dissolute lyfe, & works of darkness, &c; making them a royal Priesthood, an holy Nation, a people set at liberty to shew forth the virtues of him that hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light, gathering and writing them together as members of one body in his faith, loue and holy order, vnto all general and mutual duties, einstructing & governing them by such officers and lawes as hee hath prescribed in his word; by which Officers and lawes hee governeth his Church, and by none other.

A Short Confession of Faith (1610)

22. Such faithful, righteous people, scattered in several parts of the world, being the true congregations of God, or the Church of Christ, whom he saved, and for whom he gave himself, that he might sanctify them, ye whom he bath cleansed by the washing of water in the word of life: of all such is Jesus the Head, the Shepherd, the Leader, the Lord, the King, and Master. Now although among these there may be mingled a company of seeming holy ones, or hypocrites; yet, nevertheless, they are and remain only the righteous, true members of the body of Christ, according to the spirit and the truth, the heirs of the promises, truly saved from the hypocrites the dissemblers.*

*Here the one Church of Christ is put for “congregations… scattered in several parts of the world.”

Propositions and Conclusions Concerning True Christian Religion (1612-1614):

65. That the visible church is a mystical figure outwardly of the true, spiritual invisible church, which consisteth of the spirits of just and perfect men only, that is of the regenerate (Rev. i. 20, compared with Rev. xxi. 2, 23, 27).*

*This is a document prepared by English Baptists living in Amsterdam. It represents a positive development from some of the Anabaptist documents in that it carefully distinguishes between the visible and invisible church, a distinction made in the Scripture itself, cf. Eph. 5:25-27; Heb. 12 with Rev. 1-3.

John Spilsbury (1593-1668):

And lastly, I do believe that there is an holy and blessed communion of Saints, that God of his grace calls such as belong to life by election, unto the fellowship of his Son by the Gospel, of which matter, God by his word and Spirit joins them together in his Covenant of grace, and so constitutes his Church… 

The First London Baptist Confession (1644/46):

That Christ has here on earth a spiritual Kingdom, which is the Church, which He has purchased and redeemed to Himself, as a particular inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a company of visible saints, called and separated from the world, by the Word and the Spirit of God, to the visible profession of the faith of the Gospel, being baptized into the faith, and joined to the Lord, and each other, by mutual agreement, in the practical enjoyment of the ordinances, commanded by Christ their head and King.

The Faith and Practice of Thirty Congregations Gathered Together According to the Primitive Pattern (1651):

58. That it is the good pleasure of God, which hath given gifts of his grace to the Saints or Church of God,* that some of the gifted men should be appointed, or set apart to attend upon the preaching of the word, for the further edifying of the Churches, that they may be enabled to stand against all oppositions according as necessity requires, to the glory of God and their comfort. Eph. 4. II, 21.

*The “Church of God” is here put for all the Saints. They then utilize the plural “churches” which strongly implies an invisible church comprised of all saints which instantiates in several local churches.

The True Gospel-Faith (1654):

That all ought to avoid the hearing of any Teachers so as to learn of them, except believers dipped, and making of marriages with any out of the Church lest they be drawn from the truth.  2 Jno.10 v.; I John 4.6; I Cor.7.39; Deut.7.3,4; 2 Cor.6.14,15.*

*The use of “church” in this context must be generally or universally applied since it is extremely unlikely marriages would have been limited only to within local congregations at this time.

Midland Confession of Faith (1655):

9th. That Christ is the only true King, Priest, and Prophet of the Church. Acts ii.22-23; Hebrews iv.14, etc; viii.1, etc.

15th. That persons so baptized ought, by free consent, to walk together, as God shall give opportunity in distinct churches, or assemblies of Zion, continuing in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers, as fellow-men caring for one another, according to the will of God. All these ordinances of Christ are enjoined in His Church, being to be observed till his Second Coming, which we all ought diligently to wait for.

Somerset Confession of Faith (1656):

THAT this man Christ Jesus suffered death under Pilate, at the request of the Jews (Luke 23:24.), bearing the sins of his people on his own body on the cross (I Pet. 2:24), according to the will of God (Isa. 53:6), being made sin for us, (2 Cor. 5:11) and so was also made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13, 14; I Pet. 3:18.), that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:11), and by his death upon the cross, he hath obtained eternal redemption and deliverance for his church. (Col 1:14; Eph. 1:7; Acts 20:28; Heb. 9:12; I Pet 1:18, 19.).

The Second London Baptist Confession (1677/89):

1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32).

Hercules Collins (1646-1702):

That is, as he is the Head, and the Church the Body; as he is the King, the Church the Kingdom; for Christ, as Man, is God’s Elect; yea the Head of Election and Predestination: he was fore-appointed to be the Head of a Holy Glorious Mystical Body, the King of a Glorious Kingdom, Captain of a Glorious Company, the Bridegroom of a Glorious Bride… *

*Historically, the mystical body is to be distinguished from the visible body.

The Philadelphia Confession (1742):

The catholic or universal church, which, with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace, may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

John Gill on Hebrews 12:23 (1697-1771):

and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven; by the “church”, is not meant any particular, or congregational church, nor any national one; but the church catholic, or universal, which consists only of God’s elect, and of all of them, in all times and places; and reaches even to the saints in heaven: this church is invisible at present, and will never fail; of which Christ is the head, and for which he has given himself: now the persons, that belong to this church, are styled the “firstborn”; who are not the apostles only, who received the first fruits of the Spirit; nor the first converts among the Jews, who first trusted in Christ; but also the chosen of God, who are equally the sons of God, and born of him; are equally loved by him, and equally united to Christ, and interested in him: they have the same privileges, honours, and dignity, and shall enjoy the same inheritance; they are all firstborn, and are so called, with respect to the angels, the sons of God, as Christ is with respect to the saints, the many brethren of his: and these are said to be “written in heaven”; not in the earth…

Gill, John. Exposition on the Entire Bible-Book of Hebrews (John Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible 58). Grace Works Multimedia. Kindle Edition.

The New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833):

Of a Gospel Church We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws, and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word ; that its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.*

*The Sandy Creek statement also implies a distinction between the visible and invisible church.

Treatise of Faith and Practices of the Free Will Baptists (1834):

The Church of God, or members of the body of Christ, is the whole body of Christians throughout the whole world, and none but the regenerate are its members.

Abstract of Principles (1858):

The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Church, which is composed of all his true disciples, and in Him is invested supremely all power for its government. According to his commandment, Christians are to associate themselves into particular societies or churches; and to each of these churches he hath given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which he hath appointed. The regular officers of a Church are Bishops or Elders, and Deacons.

Compend of Christian Doctrines Held by Baptists: In Catechism (1866):

What is the church of Christ? His “calling” or followers taken collectively, or any number of them personally associated for his worship and glory. 1 Cor. 1: 2; Rev. ii: 7; Col. i: 18-24.

B. H. Carroll on Ephesians 5:25 (1843-1914):

“Christ loved the church,” that is, He loved the people who were to be given to Him—all of them. In eternity a joy was set before Him—a future reward.*

B. H. Carroll, Colossians, Ephesians, and Hebrews, (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1942), 166-167.

*Carroll here admits the general use of the term church has in view all of Christ’s elect people. Unfortunately, he later circumscribes this church to a particular chronology by making it eschatological only. But this of course does not comport with Ephesians 5:26, which assumes the bride, in the here and now, is being sanctified. Carroll later rightly notes that while all the elect is the whole church, the visualisation of it takes place only in particular or local churches (cf. John Gill for sharper, more sensible categories).

What Hath Baptism To Do With Regeneration?

What Hath Baptism To Do With Regeneration?

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

~ Titus 3:4-7 ~

There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

~ 1 Peter 3:21 ~

Over the years, and for various reasons, the subject of baptism has gradually become more and more complicated. Some of this owes to our eroding grasp of theological concepts brought about by the winds of change. Some of it owes to new doctrines of baptism and new understandings of its purpose which crop up from time to time. Whatever the cause, it is certain baptism is more or less misunderstood in mainstream evangelicalism, and this misunderstanding has unfortunately influenced even the most conservative Baptist churches.

The scope of this article is obviously unable to encompass every point of baptismal confusion (they are legion). So, I will limit myself only to contemporary baptistic evangelicalism and the theologies of conversion, salvation, and baptism spawned by a culmination of the first and second great awakenings, the follow-on revivalists, and the (relatively) recent crusade movements.

Further, I do not want to be perceived as the guy who thinks he has all the answers. This is a subject I’ve been trying to work out in my own thinking in terms of how I would explain it to another person. I have issues with some of the explanations given for the so-called tough texts in Scripture, two of which I’ve presented above. I think evangelicals tend to brush aside the meaning of these texts, not taking into consideration the true weight of the terminology, and thus miss out on a more substantive doctrine of baptism.

Ephesians 2 & the Great Divorce

Coming to terms with the true gospel is, simply put, coming to terms with Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” But there is a right and a wrong way to apply the free grace of God throughout the rest of our theology and practice. Some apply Ephesians 2:8-9 in a way that warrants rebuke from the apostle, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it (Rom. 6:1-2)?” Sinning for grace is nothing more than a bold form of antinomianism. Those who believe in such licentiousness draw an improper conclusion from Ephesians 2, namely that, since salvation is by grace, individual duty and responsibility disappears.

Others apply Ephesians 2:8-9 (and other texts of course) in a more subtle—yet still disproportionate—manner when it comes to things like baptism and the Lord’s Supper; both of which often function as simple formalities in the Christian life, footnotes in salvation, or arbitrary rituals intended as mere reminders of Christ’s work. Since salvation cannot be by works, it is often concluded that baptism and the Lord’s Supper must be entirely divorced from salvation altogether, having no other significance beyond that of a public profession of faith in the case of baptism, or a commemoration of Christ’s atoning death in the case of the Lord’s Supper. Because of this, texts such as Titus 3 and 1 Peter 3 are both doomed to die at the hands of a thousand eisegetical nuances.

An Historical Baptist Account

Baptists of old rarely saw these texts as problematic, and they had no problem taking them at face value. Today, however, Baptists often scramble to explain these texts, and as they do it they end up reducing both the significance of baptism and the meaning of the texts in question. Baptism has become, along with the Lord’s Supper, an empty religious ritual. But did our Baptist forefathers have such a low opinion concerning this ordinance? The Baptist (Keach’s) Catechism reads—

Q. 96: How do baptism and the Lord’s supper become effectual means of salvation?

A. Baptism and the Lord’s supper become effectual means of salvation, not for any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ (1 Pet. 3:21; Mt. 3:11; 1 Cor. 3:6, 7), and the working of the Spirit in those that by faith receive them (1 Cor. 12:3; Mt. 28:19).

And Hercules Collins’ An Orthodox Catechism reads—

Q. 76: Where does Christ promise us that He will as certainly wash us with His blood and Spirit as we are washed with the water of baptism?

A. In the institution of baptism, the words of which are these, go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; he that shall believe and be baptized, shall be saved, but he that will not believe shall be damned. This promise is repeated again when the Scripture calls baptism the washing of the new birth, and forgiveness of sins (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:16; Tit. 3:5; Acts 22:16).

It is clear our Baptist forerunners thought the significance of baptism stretched beyond a mere memorial or ritual. God does something, they thought, through means of baptism. They did not run from the tough-texts-for-Baptists. They freely admitted them, and frankly declared them throughout their theological work.

Parsing God’s Grace in Baptism

Perhaps, at this point, I should clarify: I do not believe in baptismal regeneration, nor do I think our theological forefathers held to such a belief. This too is clear in Collins’ follow-up question—

Q. 77: Is then the outward baptism in water the washing away of sins?

A. It is not. The blood of Christ alone cleanses us from all sin (Eph. 5:25-26; 1 Pet. 3:21; 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Jn. 1:7).

So, we come to something of a sacramental paradox. On the one hand, baptism saves us and is linked to regeneration, per Paul and Peter. On the other hand, baptism doesn’t save us, and is not one and the same with inward regeneration, also per Paul and Peter, e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9.

We often perceive these two beliefs to be paradoxical, unexplainable, or even contradictory because modernity has a way of sneakily removing helpful historical categories. In this case, the category missing is the concept of the sign or signification and the function thereof. Closely related to the idea of a sign is the concept of typology, which Peter expressly engages in 1 Peter 3 concerning baptism. So, let’s ask and attempt to answer two questions: First, what is the relationship between the sign and the thing signified? Second, can/does a type ever bear the attributes or properties of its antitype (I’ll explain below)?

The first question is too easy to answer. And because it’s so easy, we pass it over without a thought. “How does a sign relate to the thing it signifies?” is like asking, “How does a weather radar relate to the storms it detects?” We may look at a weather radar on the internet, point to the signatures, and exclaim, “There’s the storm!” and everyone in the room would understand exactly what we meant. Not only this, but we would also be completely accurate in calling the radar signature “the storm,” though perhaps not completely proper. We wouldn’t, of course, be saying that the storm is literally and entirely confined to the computer screen inside the house! We would all understand that the storm is truly located in western Kansas. But the signature of the storm on the radar is spoken of as if it were the storm itself. The radar signature is the sign, and the storm itself is the thing signified on the radar. Likewise, baptism is the sign and regeneration, union with Christ, remission of sins, salvation, etc., are those things signified in baptism.

The second question relates to the first in that a type is always a sign of something, even though a sign isn’t always a type. For example, the animal sacrifices of old typed forth the atoning work of Christ. They were, to that effect, signs signifying something, namely Christ and His work (cf. Heb. 7-8). Baptism has a typological relationship to regeneration, or circumcision of the heart. It looks beyond itself to something other and greater, i.e. the inward work of the Spirit and our union with Christ.

More importantly, types often bear the terminology of the other and greater things to which they look. For example, Hebrews 7:3 says Melchizedek was, “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” Now, Melchizedek, in himself, did have a beginning of days. He was, after all, the king of a geographical location in antiquity, perhaps even the prototypical Jerusalem. But because Melchizedek types forth Christ, he accurately bears the predicates which properly concern Christ alone. 

In Isaiah 61:1 something similar happens where Isaiah bears the prosopon of Christ Himself. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me…” respects Isaiah in an immediate-historical sense. But ultimately, Isaiah 61 looks to Christ as Christ Himself makes explicitly clear in Luke 4:18-21. 

Again, in Hebrews 1:5, we read, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You,” and, “I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son.” The former is from Psalm 2:7, which immediately respects King David. The latter is from 2 Samuel 7:14, which immediately respects Solomon. And even though both these texts accurately, immediately, and historically correspond with someone other than Jesus, i.e. David and Solomon, both texts properly and ultimately apply to Jesus alone.

So, we must conclude that types can and do often bear the terminology proper only to their antitypes. Melchizedek is said to be everlasting, Isaiah is said to be anointed, David is said to be begotten of God, and Solomon is said to be God’s very own son. But it is only insofar as these individuals type forth Christ that these various descriptors apply to them.

Tying It All Back to Baptism

Baptism is a sign of a thing signified, a type of an antitype, and as such it may (and I believe does) bear the same terminology to that which it signifies and typifies. Baptism, therefore, can be called “regeneration,” or, “washing… of the Spirit” so long as we understand that it is only so in a significant and typological sense, not in a causal sense nor in the sense of identity. And this somewhat nuanced dynamic requires faith. Without faith, baptism is nothing but a bath. With faith, however, it is a sign signifying much more, such as our union with Christ.

The key benefit of understanding the sister concepts of signs and types is the provision they make for us to affirm a robust doctrine of baptism and, most importantly, for us to be honest, transparent, and non-invasive with regard to the texts which link baptism to various soteriological realities, i.e. regeneration, remission of sins, salvation, etc. We can, therefore, understand baptism, insofar as it signifies something deeper than itself, to be inextricably linked with the things it signifies while at the same time denying causal, regenerative efficacy in the work of baptism itself (though baptism may be effectual in other respects, i.e. assurance, sanctification, et al).

Apart from faith, baptism is just a bath. Through faith, it’s a sign or type of internal realities wrought by the Holy Spirit; and so, in our parlance, baptism may be called our “regeneration” or “forgiveness of sins,” inasmuch as it looks to and signifies those deeper realities, just as a radar signature is often called “the storm,” though it itself is not.

How Baptists Need to Use the Church Fathers

How Baptists Need to Use the Church Fathers

This is part 3 of a series on baptism I’ve been writing.

There’s hardly a discernible consensus on the age of baptismal candidates in the extant literature of the early church. Full stop.

Everyone should be able to agree here. In the first couple centuries of post-canonical church history, there is very little written on baptism at all. And what is written is too sparse to bolster historical precedent for any one baptismal tradition. In light of this, the leveled way to use these very early sources, like the Didache, Irenaeus, etc., is not to try and claim them for the Baptists or paedobaptists, respectively. Such a tactic would be intellectually irresponsible and perhaps even dishonest. The best way, I believe, to use this history is to admit a measure of eclecticism—at least in terms of the ordinance or sacrament of baptism.

Admitting an eclectic approach to baptism in the early church, the scope of which is too diverse to detail here, we can take a step back and ask the simple question, “According to the extant literature, what was the early church not doing with regard to baptism?”

There are a few things we could immediately observe here: (1) they were not observing a purely symbolic baptism; (2) they were not (according to the extant literature) baptizing infants; and (3) they were not (always) baptizing upon a profession of faith. These three observations make the terrain very difficult for both Baptists and paedobaptists when it comes to finding either of those administrative forms of baptism in the ante-Nicene church as they exist today.

The symbolic view of baptism, which many modern Baptists espouse, does not comport with the early church witness. This is without dispute. The Epistle of Barnabas says, “Now concerning the water it is written in reference to Israel, how that they would not receive the baptism which bringeth remission of sins, but would build for themselves (11.1).” In other places, baptism is expressly linked to regeneration. Our 17th century Baptist forerunners understood this, and rejected a purely symbolic form of baptism. Question 96 of Keach’s Catechism (probably written by William Collins) reads, “How do baptism and the Lord’s supper become effectual means of salvation?” It answers, “Baptism and the Lords supper become effectual means of salvation, not for any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ.” First Peter 3:21 is one of the texts Collins sites in support of this statement, keeping in line, at least in principle, with the thought of the early church.

While the 17th century Baptists, along with the Reformed paedobaptists, would reject baptismal regeneration, they also refused to see it as a purely symbolical ordinance with no salvific import. They and their Reformed paedobaptist cousins believed Word and Spirit were the only means/Agent involved with the work of regeneration. The Westminster Confession reads, “Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated (WCF, 28.5).”

In the first two centuries of the New Testament church’s life, there is little to no mention of infant baptism among the several mentions of believers being baptized. If we are doing the work of historians, we could go a step further and refuse to accept that infant baptism occurred at all during that time due to the absence of evidence. The burden of proof would lie squarely upon the paedobaptist to demonstrate it was being practiced in the first two centuries of church history. There is an oblique statement by Irenaeus concerning the sanctity of infants, which is a hopeful prospect for the paedobaptists. But this comes in the second century and in no wise before. Tertullian responds negatively to infant baptism in the second century, and while this does nothing to support the Baptist understanding, it does seem to support an eclectic approach to baptism in the first two centuries of church history and perhaps beyond.

Baptisms were not always being administered to professing Christians upon a credible profession of faith. Sometimes it was delayed until old age. Constantine refused baptism until he was on his deathbed in the 4th century! Second Clement 6:9 gives historical precedent for delayed baptism (inadvertently so), when it reads, “But if even such righteous men as these cannot by their righteous deeds deliver their children, with what confidence shall we, if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled, enter into the kingdom of God?” If we delay baptism until after the sins resulting from the vigor of youth are past, we are more likely to keep our baptism pure—or so it was thought.

This gets even more complicated when we consider the diverse forms of paedobaptism in existence today. For example, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed views of baptism are substantially different in terms of what each of those traditions believe happens in baptism. For the Roman Catholics, baptism is effectual in its own right, e.g. ex opere operato. For the Lutherans, baptism is the means whereby God regenerates the subject. And for the Reformed, baptism does not regenerate in any sense though it certainly signifies it (cf. WCF, 28.1); but it does signify entrance into the external administration of Covenant of Grace, i.e. the New Covenant.

Nearly all the oldest post-canonical sources on baptism associate baptism with regeneration, and this seems to render the Reformed paedobaptists as the new kids on the block when put alongside Catholicism and Lutheranism. Though they want to remain in catholic (little “c”) fellowship with their paedobaptist predecessors, they represent some of the first paedobaptists to reject what was the very basis of paedobaptism in the first place—baptismal regeneration. Roman Catholics and Lutherans both preserve baptismal regeneration in principle, albeit with some obvious and serious differences, especially in terms of causality. But even beliefs concerning the very nature and purpose of baptism differ among those who affirmed some kind of baptismal regeneration in the early church. For example, 2 Clement 6:9 views baptism as a damsel in distress, needing protection from impurity, “if we keep not our baptism pure and undefiled…” Conversely, Ignatius writing to Polycarp understands baptism as a defense mechanism against sin, “Let your baptism abide with you as your shield… (Ignatius to Polycarp, 6.2).”

At this point, the Baptist can take an honest look at the ante-Nicene material, admit that not everyone practiced baptism in the same way (sin is real, after all), and admit that baptism was often associated with regeneration (we have a category for this in our understanding of what a sign is). At the same time they might point the paedobaptist to the deafening silence concerning baptized infants within the first two centuries of the church. And the Baptist can do this without anachronistically laying claim to the early church, as if they were all textbook Baptists. This is a way of putting both Baptists and paedobaptists in the same polemical boat. The paedobaptist (much less the Reformed paedobaptist) shouldn’t be able to claim history for themselves if they cannot find their own tradition extant therein. This takes the historical high-ground away from the paedobaptist even though it does nothing to necessarily support the Baptist position.

Therefore, Baptists should use this particular era of church history not to make Baptist arguments, but to level the playing field. Instead of one side trying to claim the catholic high ground, we can all admit this is a difficult subject that cannot be solved through historical theology. We must take the fight to the biblical-theological arena.

John Owen & 11 Differences Between Old and New Covenants

John Owen & 11 Differences Between Old and New Covenants

John Owen lists eleven ways in which the Old and New Covenants differ.

(1) They differ in their circumstance or timing.

(2) They differ in their place—the first was declared from Mt. Sinai, the second was declared from Mt. Zion (Is. 2:3).

(3) They differ in their manner of establishment. The old came with terror. The new came with meekness and grace.

(4) They differ in their mediators. The old covenant had Moses as a mediator (Gal. 3:19). The new has Christ.

(5) They differ in their subject-matter.

(6) They differ in the way they were sanctioned—the old was sanctioned by blood from animals; the new by blood from Christ.

(7) They differ in priests—the Levites in the old, Christ in the new.

(8) They differ in the nature of the sacrifices.

(9) They differ in the way they were written. The old covenants were written in stone. The New Covenant is written in the heart of man (Jer. 31:31-34).

(10) They differ in their purposes—the old covenants imposed laws which conditioned man’s participation therein; the New Covenant gives grace sufficient for man’s inclusion.

(11) They differed in effect. The Old Covenant was a ministry of death, signed in circumcision of the flesh and animal blood (2 Cor. 3:7). The New Covenant, on the contrary, gives life and liberty to all believers.

Cf. Nehemiah Coxe & John Owen, Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ, (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005), 200-205.

The 4-D Homily & Why Leaving It Behind Has Given Us Tim Challies’ Thoughtless Article on Government

The 4-D Homily & Why Leaving It Behind Has Given Us Tim Challies’ Thoughtless Article on Government

I know, this is an odd situation to patent a novel term for a really old style of homiletics or method of preaching. When asked, I’ve been telling people I use an “adapted form of Peter van Mastricht’s preaching outline,” for nearly a year now.

For those of you who do not know, Van Mastricht was a Dutch, post-Reformed scholastic Puritan. I do not utilize a variation of his method simply because it comes from him. In fact, it is implicitly found in many, if not most, of the Puritans. Van Mastricht just happened to be most express about it, actually systematizing it as a methodology (Cf. vol. 1 of his Theoretical-Practical Theology). This is part of the reason Richard Muller, the church historian, refers to Van Mastricht as the height of Reformed orthodoxy in vol. 1 of his Post-Reformed Reformed Orthodoxy.

I am not a creature of innovation and tend to think the old ways are better (sometimes to a fault). But if updating nomenclature helps people understand where I’m at without changing the substance of the thing its designed to represent, I’m all for it. Instead of saying, “I use Van Mastricht’s preaching method,” I will just refer to my method as “4-D homiletics,” or “4-D theology.”

What Is 4-D Homiletics?

First, homiletics refers to the art and science of preaching. Second, 4-D refers to the four dimensions or aspects of theology which should be present in a sermon, but should also determine the form of doctrinal treatises and systematic expositions of the various loci in Christian theology. These four “dimensions” are the exegetical, doctrinal, elenctic, and practical.

In the exegetical part, the text is exposed or made plain as to its meaning or sense. In the doctrinal part, doctrine is concluded from the text of Scripture. In the elenctic part, objections to the doctrine are answered, usually through way of affirmations, distinctions, and denials. And in the practical part, application from all the above is made.

In my case, I usually have about three topics or points in each sermon, and then those points (which are derived from the text) have their own exegetical, doctrinal, elenctic, and practical parts.

However, the Puritans would often proceed through a sermon without three topics or points, and the entirety of the sermon or doctrinal treatise would simply be a survey of the text through each of those four principle parts of theology.

Tim Challies & Government

Throughout the coronavirus “crisis” many have sought to establish a near-absolute obedience of the Christian to the government based on texts like Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13. In a recent article, Tim Challies says:

If we wish to submit to God, we must submit to the authorities he has established. Said otherwise, obedience to God manifests itself in obedience to government.

Christians may dispute the exact parameters of governmental authority, but surely we can at least agree that matters of public health fall under the jurisdiction of the state.

He also says in a later part of the article:

Of course there are times when obedience to a higher authority means we must disobey a lower authority. “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29). But we may do this only when that lesser authority is overstepping its bounds or when obeying government would be disobeying God. For every other occasion, God gives us a sober warning: “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” When government acts within its mandate, we must obey. When we fail to obey, we risk judgment—God’s own judgment as it is carried out by the state. But, conversely, when we obey, we gain joy—the joy that always comes with obedience.

Challies makes a few points here. First, we must obey government because God says so (I affirm). Second, matters of public health fall within the purview of government authority (I distinguish). Third, Christians can disobey government but only when the government commands Christians to do that which is sinful (I affirm).

In his first point, he’s not saying anything Christians actually disagree with. Every Christian believes we ought to obey government because God has commanded us to do so. The question has nothing to do with whether or not we should obey government, the question, at least for Americans, is what is our government? How is it defined?

In his second point, he suggests public health falls within the realm of governmental authority. This is a sweeping claim in need of further definition. If by public health Challies means the protection of the people’s life, liberty, and their right to pursue happiness (the language of our founding document), then sure. The government, according to Romans 13, wields a sword precisely to this end, the the image of God would be free or at liberty to live lives, especially lives unto God. But if by public health he means protection from every viral threat under the sun, then absolutely not. The American arrangement is not designed for such a nanny-like state authority. Otherwise, the government could legislate literally anything in the name of public health and safety.

In his third point, he states another obvious truth, that Christians are not to disobey government unless government enacts laws contrary to the law of God. Again, no Christian, that I’m aware of, disagrees with this in theory. The question is, How is it put into practice? And, more specifically, How is it put into practice in the U. S.?

Why 4-D Homilies & Theology Matter

You might be wondering, “What’s the relationship between preaching and what Challies has written?”

I thought you’d never ask!

Challies, at a fundamental level, is failing to not only divide the Word of God rightly, but he’s also failing to apply the Word of God, through the practical use of the Scripture he tries to interact with, to the lives of Western Christians. He has failed to exegete the text, he has failed to draw proper doctrinal conclusions from the text, he has failed to answer any kind of objections in any meaningful sense, and he’s most certainly and utterly failed to apply Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 to our present situation, instead assuming without argument a particular, anachronistic application which may have applied to 17th century England, but does not apply to us in the here and now.

4-D preaching and 4-D theologizing presses the theologian to argue from the Scriptures, defend their claims, and then apply it all to life that the Christian may live more abundantly unto God in Christ. Unfortunately, Challies, I believe, does just the opposite.

He quotes some Scripture, assumes his exegesis instead of showing his work, and then makes a faulty application.

If he were careful, he would have noted that current elected officials (in the U. S. & Canada) are commanding Christians to disobey what God has commanded, that is, we are no longer “allowed” to assemble together. This is a clear contradiction to Hebrews 10:24, 25; 4:9, and Exodus 20; Deut. 5 with regard to the Sabbath commandments. But he doesn’t even address this. He goes on apparently assuming the government hasn’t commanded Christians to do anything sinful in this particular instance.

Moreover, if, in the case of the U. S., the Constitution is the principle of power for all elected officials, then obedience of U. S. citizens is ultimately determined by that document. In that document, we have the 1st amendment and also the 10th amendment, both of which guarantee the free exercise of religion and the terminus of the powers not given to the Congress in the states or the people. This means obedience to Romans 13, within the American context, could actually look like public dissent as a result of infringements upon the Constitution.

Challies considers none of these factors in his article. Why? Because the four-fold way or the four dimensions of theology are not carefully thought out. He’s not exegeting the text—he’s just quoting the text and assuming a meaning without argument. He’s also not drawing out a clear doctrine of government from the text (because he never exegeted the text in the first place). He’s not interacting with objections, but merely assuming the truth of his article. And he’s not applying the exegeted text to the reader where the reader is at (which is what the art of application is all about).

We need to bring back this comprehensive way of both doing theology and preaching theology, otherwise, several stones will be left un-turned, doctrinal knowledge will degrade even further than it has, the church will suffer, and people will actually end up disobeying God rather than obeying God, which is the whole business of the Christian in the first place.