White / Strawbridge Debate Review – Part 1

I’m starting with Dr. James White’s opening statement. I found little in Strawbridge’s opening worth commenting on, except I do not understand the paedobaptist insistence on pushing the household argument.  In my opinion it ignores the much greater issue of the nature and consistency of the Covenant throughout God’s Word, and fails to address the Baptist’s weakest arguments.

“Promise of New Covenant comes about by faith not by family lineage.”

Yet the Apostle Peter states in Acts 2:39 – “the promise is for you and for your children…” If the New Covenant promise NO LONGER comes about by family lineage at all, Peter was wrong to quote the prophecy he did, yet Peter uses the “you and your children” formula seen throughout the giving of the covenants in the Old Testament.

While it is true that “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of promise who are considered offspring” (Rom 9:8), but this proves too much for the Baptist if they’re assuming that all of one’s offspring are specifically not included in the promise.  Every one who is baptized is promised that if they embrace the sign meaning of baptism by faith, they will enjoy the full benefits thereof.
“Reformed Baptists insist that only the “New Covenant documents” can properly interpet and apply the Old Covenant prophecies about the New Covenant.”

Herein is Dr. White’s first major presuppositional problem. While we would all agree that the “New Covenant” ‘documents’ are to interpret “Old Covenant” prophecies, to suggest that the New Testament alone is “New Covenant” is to wrongly divide the Scriptures. Like the Law and Gospel, the New Covenant echoes throughout the text from beginning to end. It is therefore wrong to assume that the only relevant texts to the New Covenant are found in the New Testament. This is a minor point however. A larger concern is how the line of reasoning that reads Hebrews 8 in this way and and makes it the governing hermeneutical lens for the rest of what even Hebrews says effects the larger intent of the author of Hebrews.

Hebrews 8… the supremacy and present reality of the New Covenant… no amount of Old Covenant sameness argumentation can be allowed to undo the author’s primary point.”

I would argue that the author of Hebrews primary point stated time and again throughout the book is not that the New Covenant is completely different from the old, but rather: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God… and “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

The author’s point is not that the New Covenant is made up of professing adults only, but rather that because the New Covenant is the final fulfillment of the Covenant promised to Abraham, we have a greater responsibility to be obedient to it by faith. There is a real commonality between the Old and the New Covenant, namely the reality of apostasy from the faith and a falling away from the covenant people of God and being cut-off by God from the promises found therein.

This is one of the reasons Baptists have such trouble with the warning passages in Hebrews. If the New Covenant is only spiritual covenant, made only with those who are truly regenerate and truly faithful, then the warning passages in Hebrews must be interpreted around that grid and the power thereof lost. This is why some Baptists have taken to calling the warning passages “hypothetical” or speaking of “false professors” rather than genuine members of the Covenant under wrath of God for their failure to fulfill the condition of the covenant.

We must remind Dr. White that the contrast between the covenants brought up in Hebrews 8 is not between the Covenant of Bethel and the New, but rather, and most specifically the covenant made when God “took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.”

“You don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and then reason from there to the nature of the covenant, you start with what the Bible teaches about the covenant and then move downward from there.”

I would argue that we don’t come up with an idea of covenant signs and application by listening only to one part of God’s Word to the exclusion of the rest of His testimony and creating an idea about them in the absence of a majority of God’s testimony.

It would be fine if there was clear text in the “New Covenant documents” specifically discounting the rest of God’s testimony regarding how he commands covenant signs applied, but God has provided us vast testimony of how HE applies covenants and it is error to ignore them.

“We cannot begin with Old Covenant paradigms and applications and the force them onto the fuller New Covenant reality…”

Again, Dr White confuses all of the Old Testament with “Old Covenant paradigms.” The Old Covenant, according to the author of Hebrews, Paul and others, began with the Exodus from Egypt and not with Abraham in Bethel. This is the fatal flaw in the Baptist argumentation and a presupposition that must be questioned at every turn.

Peter Lumpkins Keeps Pumping the Sandy Creek Myth.

Quoting Emir Caner, brother of the legally-challenged-and-found-wanting Ergun Caner, Peter Lumpkins states:

In the essay, Caner shows how Baptists in the south, both preceding and following the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, were hardly as strongly Calvinistic–not to mention virtually singularly Calvinistic as many Founders-type Calvinists insist today…

Just take one look at the Sandy Creek Association’s principles of faith:
Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association (1816)
I. We believe that there is only one true and living God; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, equal in essence, power and glory; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.
II. That Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and only rule of faith and practice.
III. That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily placed.
IV. We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.
V. We believe that there will be a resurrection from the dead, and a general or universal judgment, and that the happiness of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.
VI. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful persons, who have obtained fellowship with each other, and have given themselves up to the Lord and one another; having agreed to keep up a godly discipline, according to the rules of the Gospel.
VII. That Jesus Christ is the great head of the church, and that the government thereof is with the body.
VIII. That baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the Lord, and to be continued by his church until his second coming.
IX. That true believers are the only fit subjects of baptism;, and that immersion is the only mode.
X. That the church has no right to admit any but regular baptized church members to communion at the Lord’s table.

That’s a solid Calvinistic confession if ever one was written.

revival meetings and altar calls have been in our bloodstream for two hundred and fifty years

That may be, but that doesn’t make them any more Biblical, nor historic.  You know, maybe you should just acknowledge that the Sandy Creek folks were Calvinistic as late as 1816 and that you’re outside of the historic Baptist lineage.

My suggestions for newly minted Calvinists…

There was a time, over a decade ago, when someone introduced me to the Doctrines of Grace. For a few years after that moment, the amazing truth of God’s exhaustive sovereignty was all I sought to talk about. When the church I was attending made it clear that Calvinism was unwelcome, I left and found a church where the pastor was Calvinistic, soon he was out and the Purpose Driven movement took root, I fought what I saw was (and truly is) an affront to God’s Word and sovereignty and eventually was pushed to the periphery of the church. My wife and I sought a new church and found one that was confessional, and true to the Word of God.

Given these experiences, I have a few suggestions for those folks who find themselves newly exposed to the concepts of Calvinism, the Reformed understanding of the faith and the Doctrines of Grace in general.

One caveat… most of these points refer to where you are NOW. The intention is to get you solid food, grow you in the faith, and prepare you for your purpose in the economy of God.

  1. Realize there is more to Reformed theology then just TULIP. – Reformed theology covers the gamut of theological concepts from soteriology (the understanding of how salvation occurs) to eschatology (the end times.) Don’t be so focused on TULIP that you miss the foundations for it.
  2. Beware the desire for crusade – You may feel compelled to reform your Arminian or Purpose-Driven megachurch. RESIST THE URGE. While your intention may be good, your methods and understanding of God’s plan and purpose is probably muddled. I recommend discussing Calvinism with your elders/pastors and if they’re opposed to it lovingly and calmly notify them that you intend to seek membership elsewhere. Put a damper on your desire to fight or argue until you are firmly established and being fed the Gospel weekly.
  3. Do find a solid, confessional Reformed church. -Try here, here , here or here. Your initial desire once you leave your old church will be to find a Reformed or Calvinistic church that fits your chosen worship style etc. I recommend getting out of your comfort zone, visit a confessionally Reformed church. Notice the traditions therein and feel free to ask an elder or pastor after the service why they do church the way they do. You may find the hymns stuffy, the service rigid, the prayers long… but there are probably good, Biblical reasons why the church does what it does. Since you’re on this quest to conform to a more Biblical position, perhaps there are other areas of theology that you might need to likewise conform.
  4. Read, Read, Read – There is a vast treasury of Reformed knowledge and tradition freely available. Do not be afraid to explore concepts outside of your current position. If you’re a Baptist, read paedobaptist literature to understand their position, it will help you defend your own. Likewise, if you’re a Dispensationalist, read as to why Covenantal Amillennialists believe what they believe.
  5. LOVE – You may find yourself debating everyone. Temper this urge. Remember that you are to explain the truth IN LOVE. It is hard to show love when you’re yelling at someone. Be aware that what you now believe is completely foreign to most folks, and it will require supernatural intervention for them to accept it. Use the “Columbo method” in discussion, ask questions about passages of Scripture, be slow to interject. Learn to listen.
  6. Avoid debates on minor issues. – It’s fine to discuss, it’s fine to debate, but avoid meaningless debates. Don’t debate atheists on minutia, give them the Gospel and move on. Recognize that no matter how good your arguments are, how sound your logic, how eloquent your message… unless the Spirit of God opens their heart, they will not, and cannot understand or believe what you’re saying. The only means by which they can come to understanding is through the clear proclamation of the Gospel, and that should be your primary intent. There are times and places for public debate and even those well gifted for it, right after you change positions is not that time.

I’m sure there are more, and others will add some. Think about this and let me know what you think.