Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Ground Zero

I recently purchased a book in the Counterpoints series called, Understanding Four Views on Baptism. It presents the Baptist view, the Reformed view, the Lutheran view, and the Church of Christ view. Each apologist presents his case, and the other three get an opportunity to respond to it. It promises to be an interesting read. At this point I have only begun to read chapter 1, “The Baptist View.”

Thomas J. Nettles begins his apology for the Baptist view with an anecdote of personal experience, his and that of a “theology student.” Dr. Nettles teaches historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). His bio on the website of that institution puts his entire career within the context of seminary or divinity school. One must, therefore, assume that this student was studying theology in preparation for the ministry. Perhaps in liberal circles students will sometimes enter seminaries without any penitence or faith in Christ; although, even there, such a circumstance is hardly imaginable. Dr. Nettles does not teach in a liberal seminary. He teaches at the most faithful and conservative seminary in the Southern Baptist Convention. How many people enroll at SBTS without some sense of God’s calling to give their lives in service to Christ and his church? And how does one get such a sense without already having some conviction of one’s own sin and trust in Christ for salvation?

According to Dr. Nettles this student wrote him a personal note. “I was completing an assignment in systematic theology,” the student said, “and came to the conviction that I had not been saved. In the process of reading through the material, I cried out to God for forgiveness, and he saved me.”

Really? This seminary student “had not been saved” prior to his enrollment? That is odd, to say the least! But Dr. Nettles ignores the peculiarity of the situation, and asks only whether this student’s repentance and faith is sufficient to effect his salvation. Well, of course it is, but that misses the point. Here we have a person who thought he was saved, then came to believe that he wasn’t saved, so he “cried out to God for forgiveness,” and came to believe that salvation was his again. What was the means of grace the first time he got saved? Was it something other than this same experience of repentance? If we consider only the sufficiency of his repentance, then the student’s faith has nothing more than it had before to cling to. What will keep this young man from again coming to the conviction that he had not previously been saved?

Dr. Nettles is right to start his apology at this point. The Baptist view of baptism, their “theology of baptism,” as he puts it, begins right here. Ground zero is found in reason and experience. Baptists look at the penitent sinner and say, “If baptism plays any role in the salvation of this person, then he is not yet completely saved. And if he is not yet completely saved, then we must say that salvation is not by faith alone. Salvation is by faith alone, therefore baptism does nothing to effect salvation.” This is the starting point for Baptists, and in every instance the Bible is made to conform to this rational assumption. Everything else that Baptists say about baptism flows from this first principle – rooted not in scripture, but in experience and reason. Baptists are so fanatically committed to their belief that baptism does nothing to effect salvation, that when the Word of God directly contradicts it (1 Peter 3:21), they still cling to the Baptist view.


Stan said...

'Bout time you posted again ...

Now, I need to point out that this argument is not rooted in "reason and experience" unless by that you mean viewing the Scriptures logically. If we are "saved by grace through faith" and "apart from works", then logically anything else would need to be excluded as necessary for salvation. On the other hand, if we are saved by grace through faith and ... where "and" includes anything from baptism to keeping the law (or whatever else one might choose to tack on there), then we are not simply saved by grace through faith as Paul indicates in Eph 2:8-9 (for starters). That is, it is a biblical basis. You may find it incomplete or even false, but labeling it as merely "reason and experience" is not accurate and failing to respond to that biblical position by pitting it against 1 Peter 3:21 is not an argument (unless, of course, the aim is to point out that Scripture contradicts Scripture ... a position I'm sure you're not taking).

All this without saying they're right or you're wrong in positions taken. The arguments are faulty.

Eric said...

Thanks, Stan. It's nice to know that someone still notices this blog...

You put me in the position of defending the idea that baptism is "necessary for salvation." Strictly speaking, that is not what I believe, even though I will sometimes defend the Augsburg Confession for saying otherwise. What I do believe is that baptism saves. When I said, in the blog post, that the repentance and faith of the seminary student was sufficient to effect his salvation, I was saying, in effect, that baptism is not "necessary for salvation." So you are completely out of bounds when you make "necessary for salvation" the foil against which you raise the banner of "by grace alone through faith alone."

The primary Baptist assumption is that baptism does nothing to effect salvation. This assumption has a corollary, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is the cart and which is the horse. The related assertion says that baptism is essentially our own work, and not anything that God does. Whether it’s the passenger or the driver hardly matters. You cannot have one assumption without the other.

Since you bring Ephesians 2:8-9 to the table let’s take a closer look at it. It says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Does it say that baptism does nothing to effect salvation? No.

Does it say that baptism is essentially our own work, and not God’s? No, it doesn’t.

Here you are taking a passage that says nothing explicitly about baptism, and you are using it to exclude baptism from salvation. How does that work? How is it even possible to bridge that chasm? It is only possible when we read the Baptist assumptions into the text. So the text says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith..." And you say, "Well, that’s saving 'grace,' so it probably doesn’t have anything to do with baptism." Then it says, "This is not your own doing..." And you say, "Well, there you go... Baptism is my own doing, so this text totally excludes baptism from salvation."

Okay, whatever... but you are bringing those assumptions into the text, not drawing them out of it. The Scriptures do not exclude baptism from saving grace. Reason does.

Stan said...

Actually, it wasn't my intention to put you in the position of defending any position. As I said, I was suggesting that the argument was poor without reference to the veracity of your position.

"The Scriptures do not exclude baptism from saving grace. Reason does."

I suppose that is true. Since Eph 2:8-9 is a construct of words and determining the meaning of those words is an exercise in reason, then reason excludes baptism based on the text, not the text. That is, if "not of works" means "not of works" in some sense that excludes "works", then this would be a reasonable conclusion from the text. But only a reasonable conclusion, not a biblical one.

Of course, by that measure, there would be no actual biblical conclusion, would there, since all conclusions are reasoned conclusions? :)

Stan said...

Note, by the way, that if baptism saves without reference to faith (the 1 Peter 3:21 verse makes no reference to faith), then it wouldn't entirely be accurate to say we are saved by grace through faith necessarily, would it? It could be by faith, or it could be by baptism.

(By the way, there are those who argue that we are saved by works and dance around the "not of works" claim by saying, "That's works of the Law" and suggesting that the works by which we are saved are the works wrought in us by God. Not a lot of difference between their argument on works and yours on baptism as a work, is there?)

Oh, and, Eric, don't view this as a disagreement or argument. I'm just trying to operate like iron ... you know, sharpening iron. Entirely friendly. Nothing more.

Eric said...

Ephesians 2:8-9 does not say that baptism is man’s work, and you can't make it say so just because you believe the assertion is true. Reason cannot use this text to exclude baptism from salvation, unless it brings the Baptist assumptions into the argument first. Once we assume that baptism is merely something that we do (and nothing more – certainly not anything that God participates in), then we can say that Ephesians 2:8-9 excludes baptism from salvation. But the Bible doesn’t teach that essential predicate to your argument. Not here, and not anywhere else.

What makes you believe that baptism is purely man’s work?

Stan said...

What is it that Christians do that is purely man's work? I don't think anything we do for God is purely man's work (Phil 2:13), so I can't imagine why I would think baptism was.

I would classify "not of works" as anything that includes our works. As such, I can't think of anything that we might do that would not fall in the category of "works" to some degree or another (given my prior commitment to "anything we do for God is not purely man's work").

Would you classify baptism as nothing of man's work?

But we're still debating an interpretation of Scripture which I would therefore classify as "a biblical argument" rather than an argument based on reason and experience. You may not agree with the biblical argument, but it doesn't make it not a biblical argument. And that has been my point.

Eric said...

We are NOT debating an interpretation of Scripture, because you are not interpreting Scripture. Your ipse dixit assertion does not make it an interpretation.

If you would apply the "not of works" exclusion to "anything that includes our works," then faith does NOT come by hearing. To be consistent in his application of Ephesians 2 to the subject of baptism, a Baptist theologian cannot stop with baptism. If, because it is "of works," the Holy Spirit misleads us in Romans 6:4 ("by baptism"), He also, because it is "of works," misleads us in Romans 10:17 ("from hearing").

Stan said...

Okay. Sorry. You're right. As long as we interpret Scripture as you understand it, it will be a biblical discussion. If we interpret it in a different way, it will be an arbitrary, dogmatic viewpoint based on reason, experience, even feelings, but not the Bible. And all those folks who think otherwise are just fooling themselves.

(You do understand that this will make it impossible to have a meaningful discussion with a fellow believer on a disagreement on the meaning of a text, right?)

Eric said...

Ephesians 2:1-10 does not teach us that baptism is a "work." It does not teach us that baptism does not save. It literally says nothing about baptism.

A neutral party -- a pagan -- would agree with you about baptism, but he would agree with me about that text, because he can read the words on the page.