27 July 2005

Reformed Baptist?

Although it was not necessarily my intent to make a series of blogs explaining the "About Me" section of my profile, I suppose it makes sense for those who know me to ask why I consider myself a part of the groups I have identified. The point of consideration today is whether or not I can really call myself a Reformed Baptist.

Wikipedia's article on Reformed Baptists specificies basically two points which make a Baptist belong to the Reformed category:

(1) Agreement with the 1689 Baptist Confession especially with respect to the five points of Calvinism.

(2) Adherence "to the classic Reformed contrast between the Covenant of Works in Adam and the Covenant of Grace in Christ (the last Adam) - and the Elect in Him as His seed. This eternal Covenant of Grace is progressively revealed through the historic Biblical covenants." However in as far as Baptists have traditionally modified this framework to some extent, variation on this point is allowable.

The second of these two heads deserves an entry of its own, but I will plead the fifth until then.

On the first point the most controversial issue within Calvinistic circles is the point that has been unfortunately called "Limited Atonement." I prefer "particular" or "definite" atonement because I acknowledge that Christ's atoning sacrifice was unlimited in nature, and infinite in virtue. I doubt any Bible-believer would deny that.

On the other hand I wonder if the pastors who wrote the 1689 Confession did not have a point when they said:

8.5--The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of God, procured reconciliation, and purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto Him. (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:14; Romans 3:25, 26; John 17:2; Hebrews 9:15.)

8.8--To all those for whom Christ hath obtained eternal redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them; uniting them to himself by his Spirit, revealing unto them, in and by his Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit, and overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it. (John 6:37; John 10:15, 16; John 17:9; Romans 5:10; John 17:6; Ephesians 1:9; 1 John 5:20; Romans 8:9, 14; Psalms 110:1 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25, 26; John 3:8; Ephesians 1:8.)
I find the wording "procured reconciliation" delightfully wise and apt. With one graceful step it avoids two dark chasms on either side.

First, it avoids the error that Christ's death was only about possibilities. It affirms that something actually happened at the cross; it denies that the transaction merely made it possible for God to save people. Christ procured reconciliation. He did that which would make application of eternal redemption certain and effective.

Second, it avoids the error that Christ's death rendered all the elect already reconciled. It affirms that those whom the Father had given Christ are children of wrath until the point at which Christ certainly and effectively applies eternal redemption to them; it denies that the elect have been freed from the responsibility to believe.

Notice the fact that the atonement's relationship to the unelect is left completely unstated under these two heads. All that is said is that Jesus' death "procured reconciliation" and that he "doth certainly and effectively apply" eternal redemption to those for whom he has procured it. That is why I find no difficulty affirming these statements while at the same time affirming that Christ's death made salvation available to everyone.

Grudem makes some apt observations on this point:
"The sentence, 'Christ died for all people,' is true if it means 'Christ died to make salvation available to all people' or if it means, 'Christ died to bring the free offer of the gospel to all people.' In fact, this is the kind of language the Scripture itself uses in passages like John 6:51, 1 Timothy 2:6, and 1 John 2:2. It really seems to be only nit-picking that creates controversies and useless disputes when Reformed people insist on being such purists in their speech that they object anytime someone says that 'Christ died for all people'" (Systematic Theology, p. 601–2).

This provides a perfect rubric with which to explain Peter's observation that libertine false teachers are "denying the Master that bought them" (2 Peter 2:1). BDAG is helpful on the meaning of "bought" in this context. It means "to secure the rights to someone by paying a price" (p. 14). Jesus, by making salvation available to all people without exception, secured for himself the rights to the obedience of faith by all people without exception. Peter is shocked at the wickedness of these men. Jesus died to secure the rights to their obedience and they dare flout his authority and deny the faith!

Therefore, while the atonement "procures reconciliation" and Jesus "certainly and effectively" applies eternal redemption to those whom the Father has given him, he stands in burning condemnation of those who do not accept the free offer of salvation, those who refuse to yield obedience to the Master who bought them.

Unfortunately some in the reformed tradition do not appreciate this condemning aspect of the atonement. Perhaps there are good reasons for doing so. My point is that these reasons were not sufficiently important for these pastors to voice in the 1689 Confession.

Therefore as far as the first point goes, I have no problem with being called a “Reformed Baptist.”

(I have used language in this entry that is similar to that of Andrew Fuller and William Carey, but I have not researched the views of these men enough to know if I agree with them fully on this point. I also would grant that Christ has the rights to the obedience of the unelect by virtue of his role in their creation, but a reference to creation seems foreign to the context of 2 Peter 2.)

1 comment:

kevin mcfadden said...

Thanks Pitts. Very helpful--I'll have to think through the "condemning aspect of the atonement" more.