Friday, August 20, 2010

The Grace of Baptism -- Part 5

Why Does it Matter?




Part 1: The Question on the Floor: Baptism's Effect; Scriptural Texts
Part 2: The Effect of Baptism in Reformed Thought
Part 3: The Efficacy of Baptism
Part 4: Interactions With Derksen's Arguments
Part 5: Why Does it Matter?

One might wonder why I've undertaken the effort to dispute Phil on this point. Certainly it is not to give aid and comfort to anyone teaching that baptism gives grace indiscriminately! With Derksen, I affirm that the grace of baptism is received by faith and applies to the elect at the time of God's choosing. I join him in denying that the grace of baptism is given to all recipients, in any sense.

Nevertheless, I've undertaken this project because Derksen's construction raises a large yellow flag that should concern us.

He has created a system in which baptism presupposes prior faith. This system begs for a Baptist practice. And indeed, those Presbyterians who came closest to Baptists (such as Thornwell) articulated an uncomfortably similar theology of infant baptism -- that it grants an external privilege only.

Derksen, a faithful Presbyterian, is in no danger of becoming Baptist any time soon. His view, however, separates the sign from the thing signified. What is signified in baptism is our justification and our union with Christ. What is given in baptism (on Derksen's account) is not justification and union with Christ, but merely confirmation of those things.


He has created a system in which the sign does not actually convey the thing signified, but merely confirms it. This small bit of daylight is too much daylight. The Reformers and their Confessions were comfortable attributing salvation itself as the effect of baptism, of attributing the thing signified to the sign. I encourage my brother Phil Derksen to do the same.

JRC

9 comments:

Phil Derksen said...

Jeff,

I read through your articles, and can certainly appreciate the considerable effort that you obviously put into them. However, I will say, as you have repeatedly and rather pointedly with regard to my essay, that I find some of your methodologies to be problematic and some of your your conclusions overreaching.

In retrospect, as with anything that I have written a while ago, I would probably fine tune and sharpen some of the formulations and individual arguments that I made, but I firmly stand by the major conclusion posited in my series: The sacraments are confirming and strengthening ordinances, not converting ordinances. I also still believe that this best expresses the confessional view. I certainly do not agree with saying that "baptism effects [our] salvation" as you have.

All things considered (time not being the least amongst them), I guess I'm not convinced that pursuing a protracted point-for-point dialog on this matter would really be a profitable undertaking, but thank you for offering.

In Christ,

Phil

Jeff Cagle said...

Phil,

Thanks for taking the time to read through it. I certainly respect your principled stand. I'm sorry if the comments were overly pointed.

Grace and peace,
Jeff

Phil Derksen said...

Jeff,

Upon further reflection, I feel that I must eventually give some kind of response to some of the charges that you leveled against me and my series on baptism. I certainly support the right of others to challenge and criticize anything I have published, and you in fact characterized your own articles as a "direct challenge" to much of what I presented.

Yet you even went so far as to pronounce that my position regarding the efficacy of baptism is an apparent "denial of the teaching of the Scripture, Reformers, and Confessions." I would truly shudder to think that such might actually be the case.

In light of such a serious accusation I would like to be able to clarify my position in some respects, while reinforcing and defending it in others. In the process I will be compelled to challenge the veracity of a number of your own counter-arguments and conclusions. I will certainly endeavor to do so in as charitable and unassuming a manner as possible.

Time constraints will prevent me from carrying this out in the immediate future, but at some point in the next several months I will try to offer my further thoughts.

Respectfully,

Phil Derksen

Jeff Cagle said...

Hi Phil,

As a result of your first reply, I've been doing more reading also, and I logged on this morning with the intent of writing a postscript that moves somewhat in your direction.

The gist of things is I believe we've grabbed ahold of opposite ends of the stick. On the one end is baptism as a means of grace, strengthening the faith of the recipient. From that perspective, as I've come to see, there is a legitimate reason to say that baptism is "confirming, not converting." Your sources were primarily speaking of this, as do Dabney and to a lesser extent, Berkhof.

On the other end is baptism in terms of sacramental union, conveying the things signed. From that perspective, baptism is an "initiation into Christ" (Calvin) and a "saving ordinance" (Ursinus). Hodge takes this line, quite strongly.

So anyways, I'm seeing your point (I believe) more clearly, while still believing that it would be helpful for you to see mine also.

I'll write all this up within the next 48 hr., and then you can judge whether a further defense is needed.

---

About the polemic: I'm sorry if I stung you overmuch. I had just read something by Trueman about the value of polemic, and I took it to heart. Perhaps Proverbs is better than Trueman. :)

On the other hand, if it provokes good thought and a God-honoring outcome, both individually and between us, then I'm not too sorry.

But mainly: the purpose was not to cast you as a false teacher, but to wave a yellow flag saying "wait a minute! Baptism saves (in a sacramental sense), and this is part of Reformed sacramentology!"

Peace,
Jeff

Phil Derksen said...

Jeff,

I too suspect that we may not be as far apart on this whole issue as might first appear. Much depends on how we each would further define and contextualize certain terms that we have emphasized, like "converting" and "effects".

Of course it must be kept in mind that the situational context of my series was to refute the Federal Vision error with regard to baptism. Thus, contra their inflated claims, I concentrated on showing what baptism "is not." If, on the other hand, I had been writing to refute the Baptist error that baptism is essentially an empty sign, then I would have developed much more fully what baptism "is".

I recognize that my original articulation of things was less than perfect or full-orbed. As a result of our interaction I may eventually offer my own further explanatory addendum. In the meantime I look forward to reading yours.

Regards,

Phil D.

Jeff Cagle said...

Phil, I've modified Parts 1, 4, and 5. Hopefully this will be a more fair interaction with your piece and reflect a better understanding of the sources.

Jeff

Phil Derksen said...

Jeff,

Thanks for the thoughtful modifications in your articles. Like I've said, I can't really answer in full right now, but the time delay will actually allow (force?) me to mull over some things for a while...

Regards,

Phil

Phil Derksen said...

Jeff,

Thanks for the thoughtful modifications in your articles. Like I've said, I can't really answer in full right now, but the time delay will actually allow (force?) me to mull over some things for a while...

Regards,

Phil

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I love this remark of yours:

On the one hand, the Natural Law is held to be identical to the decalogue. And yet, we get statements like “the magistrate is normed by general revelation, not special revelation.” (#433).

This makes as much sense as “I live with my wife, not my spouse.”

If the natural law is the decalogue, then it looks like the magistrate is normed by both at the same time.

------

You may delete this post. I just want to extend my appreciation. :)

Ron