God as our Delight

If we perceive God as raw, selfish power, we will bow before Him in fear, but not in delight.

If we perceive God as loving and kind, but not as just and wrathful, we will perhaps worship Him for meaning well.

But if we see Him as He is: omnipotent, angry at sinners, and ready to judge as well as fiercely loving, faithful, and jealous for our hearts, then we see Jesus Christ crucified for us.

There, on the plain looking Roman cross some 2,000 years ago, a plain looking man was executed in a short time by a road outside Jerusalem, but what the eyes of the people could not see was Jesus, having become your sin and mine in the Father’s eyes, being wrenched away from the love and fellowship of His Father; there the Son was given the penalty for all you deserve in an eternal hell of fire. There the Son willingly, lovingly laid down His life as a physical, spiritual sacrifice to earn your acceptance with God. And there… the Father loved us infinitely.

Wrath and love. Power and mercy. Anger and love. God is worthy of our praises.

From Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering:

“Jonathan Edwards once said: ‘God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.’ It is not enough to say, ‘I guess he is God, so I have got to knuckle under.’ You have to see his beauty. Glorifying God does not mean obeying him only because you have to. It means to obey him because you want to — because you are attracted to him, because you delight in him. This is what C. S. Lewis grasped and explained so well in his chapter on praising. We need beauty.”(170)

Thanks for reading,


The Giver and Atheism

Lately the Mrs. and I love a good sci-fi movie. Last night we rustled through the Playstation store and came out watching The Giver (in cheaper standard definition, mind you). Well, in spite of the 36% at Rotten Tomatoes, I found it a tremendous film with a few notable weak moments. The high-powered cast was certainly a head-turner (I mean, who expected Taylor Swift to make a couple quick appearances as an actual character?)


But the story itself was familiar: a dystopian future appearing as a somewhat ideal world with hints of a dark secret – who hasn’t seen this before? But for The Giver, there was a deeper exploration of a specific theme (which is also familiar within the genre). Here in the small, isolated town-world of Jonas, our protagonist without a last name (as everyone else), everyone is the same, and everything is controlled by “the Elders” of the community. They’ve eliminated everything that creates conflict, you know, like color, sex, music, and even emotions (don’t forget your morning injection!) But the onion begins to be peeled as Jonas is chosen to be a unique memory keeper for the entire community. Fast forwarding (so I don’t spoil it), the central question becomes “what makes one a human being?”


I have this bad habit of trolling atheists on Twitter. I like to just put out my thoughts on atheism, just to see who is itching for an argument. Atheists are, in my experience, the most fundamentalist, evangelistic group in the Western world. They seem to keep step with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons for zeal and self-confidence.

That’s the kind of people I like to spar with – those who are deeply convinced of their own right thinking, yet who have such an obvious, fully-visible flaw in their system of thinking.

For the atheist (or anti-theist), I almost feel bad arguing with them because it’s just so easy to win. They of course never, ever admit when they have been shown the fatal flaw, but that’s OK – it’s not up to me to convince them that deep down underneath the emotions and clever soundbite lines on Twitter, their reliance on the God of Scripture is absolute and inevitable.

What do I mean? Simply put, that there is no justification for using laws of logic and reasoned thinking if human beings are simply star dust in biomechanical suits having the illusion of meaningful lives for a cosmic moment, just before the void of space-time reabsorbs each of us into infinite nothingness.

Yeah, bummer.

They try to undermine the Bible, they attack Noah’s ark, they trash Genesis, they point out all the Christian hypocrisy in the world, and I just fold my arms and smile, breathe, and reply: but you claim to be a collection of blood, bones, and DNA that randomly, by chance, with no intelligent mind having planned for any of it, is having an argument about truth.

*Pause* You might as well be speaking in pure gibberish and eating aluminum nails, for there is no philosophical justification for rationality in atheism: the very thing you are begging we both assume in order to undo my Christianity. I can’t move beyond the irrationality of two specks of ultimately meaningless stardust arguing for who is right about “God,” because that doesn’t explain the universe we live in (at all!) – humans are more, so much more than that…

But what’s the real tragedy for the atheist? His degrading of his own humanity in order to sustain his protest against God’s governance of the universe. He counts himself as worth nothing more than a heap of atomic fruit, and in doing so he undercuts any reason to listen to him.

In The Giver, the Elders decided that what was best for humanity was to severely restrict our expression of our own selves, and our souls, if you will. Even the very color in the world is missing; people are not to touch one another, music is completely unknown, and love is “such an antiquated term it has lost all meaning,” (so said Katie Holmes’s gloomy mother character).

In this world, the only way to save humanity is to deny the essence of our humanness: that we are beautiful in our unity as a race, and in our diversity as individuals. The Elders denied that colorful, beating heart of our race so that they could keep us safe from ourselves… and they essentially denied that there is anything more to human beings than being objects of governance. No ultimate meaning is needed, no goal (or telos) in the community being governed, but to continue forward safely, to flourish in so far as flourishing is the survival of the best DNA… in other words, to perpetuate a genetic coil is the end-all-be-all in The Giver, as it is for the atheist… and neither has a rational explanation for why survival is preferred over annihilation.

If we are but biomechanical suits, and only that, why should we care if we live on to a new generation?

If we are but peons to be governed and managed, why should we care if we are governed and managed?

You see, both the Elders in The Giver, and the atheist in… well, this neighborhood I am sitting in, and those in your neighborhoods, are deeply conflicted between what they say about humanity, and how they actually treat humanity.

In The Giver, the Elders keep one person in a secret house on the edge of the known world, and this person is the “receiver of memory” – this person is the sole possessor of the collective memories of what humanity was like before the Sameness was imposed – and this receiver is the one person to whom the Elders may go to gain wisdom and guidance for difficult questions of policy. But you see – this very idea of a need for direction, for wisdom, for a vision of what is “good” versus what may be “bad,” or “evil” begs the questions of the purpose of human life – and leads to the unraveling of the imposed Sameness! The receiver of memory will be the restorer of memory – for humanness by its nature demands freedom to be all that God invested in us!

And in this real world, the atheist betrays his atheism each time he smiles at his children, each time he closes his eyes to enjoy a particularly cold, crisp swallow of ale, or each time he finishes a poem and can’t wait to share it with his friends and family. In fact, the only thing that might somewhat be consistent with the atheist beliefs would be to simply kill oneself immediately, and to get free of this terrible illusion of life, happiness, sadness, meaning, purpose, and joy. One might quickly end it all to ultimately prove to one’s atheist self that he is not, in fact, afraid of the logical end of his stated beliefs… but even in such an end, the tragedy and the horror would preach all the more loudly:

we are meaningful creatures. we are special creatures. we have a divine origin. we are moral creatures. we cannot escape every moment of our lives, every breath we take from preaching the glory of the One who made us, and of His apparent love and concern for us in our tragically broken humanness.

Will you remember your humanness, my atheist friend? Will you see that your unbelief and denial of your Creator is a giant parade of noise and color: an attempt to blot out the irrepressible voice deep within you, whispering… “I made you. You belong to me. You are not your own. I am your judge. Come to me. Come to me. ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’” – Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30.

Thanks for reading,

Justin (Adam Kane)

Baptism (Cliff-note Version)

Two weeks ago, I posted my essay from a recent seminary research course here. Some dear friends commented that it was a bit heady, and difficult to digest (sorry!), so I wanted to do a quick “cliff-note” version here.

Well, what is baptism? It’s Jesus, at work in His church.

baptism is gospel It’s the Word of God, doing it’s work through a physical medium, or “means.” This is why you may hear some Christians call baptism and the Lord’s Supper “means of grace.” These are the two sacraments, or ordinances, by which Jesus works His saving grace in the church.

Now, these are not the only means of grace. Whenever and however God’s holy Word is communicated, it is a means of grace.

Be it by sound waves coming from vocal chords, striking your ear drums.

Be it by reading.

Be it by braille.

The Word of God is powerful because it is His Word by which He has promised to do His works of grace.

Baptism is the place where God’s Word is present and applied by means of water. The water itself does nothing, but only when it is combined with the Word of God (gospel promise), and faith, that then saving grace is imparted. In this sense, God can and does use baptism as a means of birthing, strengthening, and/or preserving saving faith.

About my seminary paper: my argument was that Baptists have an historical track record of fighting with anyone who comes from a paedobaptist denomination (and for good reason, I’m a Baptist too!) But my argument is that we Baptists have overreacted to Roman Catholicism as an institution, and have therefore also overreacted to Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed denominations (confessions) because of their infant baptism practices.

My argument was, therefore, that we ought to re-examine the Scriptures in light of the faithful, gospel-centered confessions of the Lutherans and Reformed churches, for if they have maintained both the gospel of the apostles AND infant baptism over 500 years, then we ought to recognize Jesus has not removed their lampstand in spite of an irregular administration of baptismal rites (to infants). Does that make sense? Babies should not be baptized, but once they are, we ought to recognize that God works through our mistakes, so long as we are not denying the gospel and twisting His Word to the point of heresy.

And so… I would argue that Baptists

1) Need to re-examine the delivery of saving grace in and through baptism (even though we administer baptism properly after a profession of faith – there is a mystery here working outside of time).

2) Need to recognize baptism as valid, though irregular when it has been done to an infant. Problems do arise when churches baptize infants, but even these issues are “fixable” when once the true, apostolic gospel is preached in those churches. (In other words, Baptists need to stop re-baptizing people, for in reality these second baptisms are not a baptism at all, but rather a traditional, ceremonial mimicking of baptism).

3) and finally, Baptists need to do some soul searching concerning our reactionary stances in a number of areas. This is difficult work, because we want to preserve our apostolic, first-century doctrines and practices that the other Reformation churches are missing out on, but on the other hand, we unnecessarily separate from fellow believers too readily.

This all calls for prayer, humility, and a deep trust in the Word of God to inform our hearts and minds… even if that calls for occasionally repenting of a bad practice or two.

In love for the church,

Justin (Adam Kane)

Does God Work Grace in Baptism?

I’m a Baptist, but kinda barely! I believe baptism is only for those who are receiving it in faith, but the tradition of the Reformation churches persuades me to recognize the baptism of infants! (Not as the norm, but as an irregular expression of the sacrament)… So here’s my 6,700 word paper on why I think most Baptists see baptism as more of a law duty than as a gospel gift.

Check it out, thinkers! Thanks for reading,


Baptist Identity and Sacramental Malformation

A Baptist identity is difficult to define and locate within broader church history, but in general there have always been those who practice credobaptism (believers only to be baptized).[1] It was through the Reformation and its subsequent centuries that Baptists articulated a confessional identity under the Protestant umbrella.[2] Among the branching family of Protestant denominations, church radicals (Baptists among them) are those who bore the malice of Rome from one side, and the scorn of the paedobaptist Reformation bodies from the other.[3] Through the sustained three-way tussles between Roman Catholicism (RC[C]), high-church State Protestantism, and the burgeoning free-churches (including Baptists), the sacramental theology (ST)[4] of the Baptists has never been developed and articulated apart from the conscious strain of these polemics.[5]

Perhaps in relation to this, the greater portion of Baptists have tended to exclude the sacraments as means of God’s effectual work of salvation. For the Baptist, sacramental grace is often rejected as having the whiff of Romanism; the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches (with their varied STs) may appear to the Baptist as compromised, or otherwise stuck in a sort of incomplete reformation.[6] Because Baptists tend to view the RCC as the arch villain of accretive doctrinal excess (a la “sacred tradition”), any given Baptist doctrine may take a reactionary skew and thus miss or distort key biblical data.[7] In spite of this visceral antipathy, the Baptist is ever a Christian under the authority of Scripture, and so he may be persuaded to re-visit traditional beliefs in the light of Scripture as it has been interpreted within the greater Reformation heritage.

So as to provide the historical and theological background against which Baptists react, I will note the vital connection in RC between ecclesiology and ST, this being near the heart of the Reformation protest. Over against this medieval RC juggernaut, the Lutheran and Calvinist confessional bodies found agreement in the gospel[8] even while confessing their differing expressions of sacramental grace. In this paper I will briefly demonstrate that sacramental grace is not necessarily RC, nor does it necessitate RC ecclesiology. In addition, I will make note of the growing Baptist voices who represent an openness to an embrace of sacramental grace within the outlines of otherwise traditional Baptist theology.

A Question of Ecclesiology

Wherever the true church is found, the saving work of Christ is also found, and there his true sacraments are present (as nearly all churches would agree). The core of the Reformation battle has been the question of the nature and identity of the church Jesus founded (Matt. 16:18), from which flow the considerations of justification, the gospel, etc. If the RCC was not the exclusive, apostolic body of Christ, then the nature and identity of the sacraments would also become questionable—for if access to the sacraments could be gained outside the RC communion, then the church was by definition more or different than what the RC Magisterium had taught it was.[9] The question of ecclesiology, therefore, is the foundational question underlying ST.[10]

The RCC is defined by her claim of “‘apostolic succession’” that “structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental,” in continuity from Christ and his apostles to the present RC episcopate.[11] The RCC therefore teaches communion with the Bishop of Rome as the full communion with Christ, wherein Jesus is “himself at work” in the sacraments.[12] Any true Christian piety found outside of the RCC is therefore seen as a product of invisible (even unintentional) union with the RCC.[13]

The Reformation churches had to define the church in juxtaposition to this monolithic institution calling itself the “great sacrament of divine communion.”[14] The early Lutherans declared the Pope and his government to have “the marks of Antichrist,” being “an enemy of Christ.”[15] John Calvin devoted a great breadth of his fourth book in Institutes of the Christian Religion to denouncing the papal system—(his successors being no less brutal).[16] Yet if Rome had apostatized, then the jarring question of the identity of the true church had to be answered. On this point the Magisterial reformers agreed: the true church is identified wherever and whenever the Word of God is preached to the people of Christ in accord with the ecumenical creeds, and also where and when the two dominical sacraments are dispensed to Christ’s people as Christ commanded.[17] The question of how the church is to be governed is answered differently throughout Protestantism, yet it has no bearing on this underlying identity of where the church may be found; and here there is basic agreement among orthodox Protestants.

Baptists as Separatists

The Baptist tradition is something of an historical amalgamation of disparate groups, and the modern moniker comes from those in England who were suspicious of the Anglican Church with its state backing.[18] The orthodoxy of state church politics had been virtually unquestioned for more than 1,000 years, but here were the Baptists claiming “a succession of true believers since the time of Christ, but not of institutional continuity.”[19] The modern Baptist identity is likewise “largely a reactive and responsive” heritage with a survival instinct—a body of believers familiar with the shadowy edges of the larger catholic church.[20]

Under the leadership of John Smyth, the proto-Baptist Separatists of Gainsborough found quickly that “it was impossible to exist longer in England” due to persecution from the state and its established church.[21] These Separatists of the early seventeenth century drew up a covenant with one another whose aim was to return the church to a pure New Testament praxis, especially touching baptism.[22] No more would they continue the tradition of paedobaptism, for Europe had been filled with the baptized who knew nothing of the new life in Christ;[23] this apostasy having thrived under the rubric of state-protected, sanctioned, and controlled Christendom.

In the formative years of the early Baptists, the social environment was one of suspicion and fear within and between the various Christian sects and secular rulers. In this context, the Baptist concern with ecclesiology remained at the front of their emerging system of doctrine, Smyth’s confession stating “That the visible church is a mystical figure outwardly, of the true, spiritual invisible church; which consisteth . . . only . . . of the regenerate.”[24] From this foundational free-church ecclesiology, the Baptists were being defined within Protestantism as radicals, and indeed the RCC and even fellow Reformation bodies who had retained forms of a state church had trouble differentiating them from the Anabaptists of the early seventeenth-century.[25]

Baptist Baptism as Separationism

As Smyth had argued, and as his Baptist descendants held, the church is made up of her invisibly regenerate members (read: baptism being a token of an already experienced new birth). The Baptists maintained little respect for the place in the church of those holding external, false professions of faith, and even less respect for the political structures of the churches as they intertwined with secular governments. Accordingly, the ST of the Baptists has reflected this Separatist mentality. Indeed, the beginning of Baptist Protestantism revolved around “how to re-establish right baptismal practice when all existing church officers had abandoned apostolic practice” of credobaptism.[26] The self-baptisms of the early Baptists attests their belief that the true church and her sacraments had been so mutilated over time that a fresh start was necessary.[27] With this clean break even from fellow Reformation bodies, the Baptists defined baptism by inference: if the church is made up only of those who have been spiritually reborn, and who have made personal, cognitive professions of faith in Christ, then baptism is a symbolic, subsequent act in relation to that new birth, not the cause of it. The relation between conversion and baptism, therefore, has been answered by Baptists in conscious contradistinction to the RCC and paedobaptist Reformation churches. Baptism has been taught as a symbolic act of the new birth subsequent to it—for no infant can make its own profession of faith, as the logic goes. Even Augustine, the father of medieval paedobaptism, had to resolve the “tension . . . in the conjunction of faith and infants.”[28] The Baptist answer to “what is baptism?” has therefore been a negative/positive confession: it is not something that is done in and for us, but rather is merely something we do before God as an act of obedience and public confession of faith in Christ.[29] This is baptism as Separationism and as protest to the ecclesiology that underlies paedobaptism.

A General Consensus

From the early seventeenth century up through the present day, most Baptists have held to this ST of baptism-by-inference from believer-only-church ecclesiology. The majority view has been that of baptism as a symbol of regeneration, barring from the doctrine any consideration of effectual grace in the sacrament. Smyth spoke to this effect in his confession, stating “That in Baptism . . . is presented, and figured, the spiritual baptism of Christ,” and “That the outward baptism and supper do not confer, and convey grace and regeneration to the participants…”[30] Later in the same century the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists wrote similarly upon the doctrine of baptism, which was defined as “an ordinance . . . it being a sign” that “answer[s] the things signified.”[31] This phrase “answer[s] the things signified” reflects the ancillary value of baptism in relation to regeneration. As the century rolled on, this doctrine of baptism had not changed: the confession of 1677/89 shows a conscious protest to its parent documents the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession of Faith when it says “Baptism is an Ordinance . . . a sign of . . . fellowship” with Jesus.[32] Where Savoy and WCF used “sacrament,” the Baptists continued to prefer “Ordinance” as a clear signal of their demurring from sacramental grace.[33]

This perspective has remained a core feature of Baptist ST to this day, being tied to ecclesiology as it has been. Andrew Fuller taught that “Sin is washed away in baptism in the same sense as Christ’s flesh is eaten, and His blood drunk, in the Lord’s Supper: the sign, when rightly used, leads to the thing signified.”[34] Writing in the late nineteenth century, Henry C. Vedder denounced the early corruption of the church as owing to “the attribution of some mystical or magical power to baptism.”[35] To Vedder, the broadening of baptismal rites was the primary means of the eventual total apostasy of the RCC.[36] The twentieth-century giant of Baptist theology Augustus Hopkins Strong was no less forceful in his separation of baptism from the grace it signifies, calling it a “token of [the believer’s] previous entrance into the communion of Christ’s death and resurrection—or, in other words, in token of his regeneration through union with Christ.”[37] In the most recent decades, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has stood as a leading compendium of Baptist thought. In his chapter entitled “Means of Grace within the Church,” Grudem acknowledges baptism “becomes a means of grace,” but this is tightly qualified.[38] In Grudem’s estimation, the working of the Spirit in baptism is his work of stirring faith in those present as they realize the things being signified. Here our Baptist is still drawing the line thick between the sign and the thing signified.

As is evident from this brief selection of key Baptists, something vital is being protected behind the doctrine of symbol-only baptism. It may be that this minority group in church history is guardian of the faithful reading of Scripture, or on the other hand it may be a traditional position founded on historical antipathy, in which case a review is not only suggested, but binding. At the present, there is a small cadre of (mostly academy-based) Baptists calling for a review of sacramental grace in the Baptist churches.[39] Yet can a Reformed Baptist remain true to the gospel as a credobaptist if he heeds these voices calling for an embrace of the doctrine of effectual, sacramental grace? Are these mutually exclusive? The Lutheran and Calvinist examples shed needed light on this question.

The Gospel: Without Which (We Have) Nothing

In the grinding of the Reformation the Protestant family splintered into denominational quarrels, yet the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was the ecumenical Protestant rallying cry.[40] Paul reminded the Corinthians “of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” and this “as of first importance…” (1 Cor. 15:1-3a ESV). The core of the sixteenth-century protest against the RCC rested on questions of the church and her authority, but in a most immediate sense, the marring of the gospel is what brought about the Reformation. Paul had also written to the Galatians to warn “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:7a-8). The very heart of the Magisterial Reformation was the restoration of the gospel; and to this heritage the later Baptists were adjoined as inheritors. Because of this shared principal, it is discordant to find such a different ST in the Baptist confessions and church life.

The Reformed Baptist confessions of the seventeenth century reflect this shared gospel. Around 160 years before the great Second London Baptist Confession (SLBC) was finalized in 1689, the first Lutherans drew up the Augsburg Confession in an attempt to clarify to the secular authorities what they believed and confessed.[41] Article IV (on justification) declares “people cannot be justified before God by their own . . . works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith…” so they declared to the Emperor, contra RC dogma.[42] The Apology of the Augsburg Confession begins the article on justification calling it “the chief topic of Christian doctrine.”[43] As the gospel is the sine qua non of the Lutheran confessions, so justification is the beating heart of the gospel.[44] By this standard, the gospel is preserved only if nothing is added to the righteousness of Christ imputed through faith alone.

John Calvin, 23 years younger than Luther, looked up to the elder theologian with admiration.[45] Sounding positively Lutheran in his definition and exposition of justification, Calvin wrote:

“A man will be justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous. Thus we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.”[46]

And following in his footsteps, Calvin’s successors enshrined this definition of justification in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1643.[47] This doctrine of justification through faith alone is also the minimal, essential boundary of the gospel confessed by Reformed Baptists; and as such, a comparison between the SLBC and WCF serves to demonstrate that these Baptists did not seek originality in their confessional standard on justification and the gospel but rather entire reliance on the Lutheran and Calvinist fathers.[48]

A Fork in the Road and Faulty Presuppositions

Here then is the critical juncture for Reformed Baptists. If the Magisterial confessions embrace both the gospel of justification through faith alone and sacramental grace, (although the definitions of how grace is active in the sacraments differ between them), then the issue is not Rome vs. Reformation or heresy vs. orthodoxy, but rather who within the Reformation heritage maintains the best exegetical work. In other words, the Magisterials have consistently read a harmony between the five solas[49] and sacramental grace. As mentioned above, the Baptist tradition is protective of its free-church ecclesiology and credobaptism; so if it can be demonstrated that these are compatible with sacramental grace, and that the Scriptures teach such, then the Baptist tradition is bound to repudiate duty-driven, symbol-only baptism.

Yet from the start the Baptist stumbles. Both Magisterial traditions maintain rich doctrines of paedobaptism, and thus the Baptist objects in reactionary form from following their reasoning.[50] Indeed it would be progress for many Baptists to endeavor reasoning along the lines of the Magisterial traditions at all, as leading Baptists to this day draw a false dichotomy as if sacramental grace were almost exclusively a RC doctrine.[51] One such example comes from Thomas J. Nettles who rails at fellow Baptists leaning toward a sacramental baptism, calling such “a corrupting influence on Baptist ecclesiology and soteriology,” and that “one’s focus [would be] divided between the historic work of Christ on the cross and the present event of baptism”— Nettles claiming “this is real idolatry.”[52]

Another, more egregious example came from Dr. Robert A. Baker during chapel at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (in the early 1960’s). There he thundered “the idea that the grace of God must be mediated by things – sacraments – is a carry-over from crass paganism. It is the spirit of relics, holy bones, shrines, and crusades.” and “the belief that . . . God uses ‘material media’ to transmit that grace is fraught with danger.”[53] Baker’s words are odd considering the pericopes wherein Jesus gave a blind man sight by putting mud on his eyes (John 9:6-7), and where God healed people through means of “handkerchiefs or aprons” that had touched Paul’s body (Acts 19:12 NKJV).

Furthermore, Baker’s connecting of sacramental grace to “crass paganism” is opposite history: the pagan/Gnostic infiltration of the early church brought in a spirit/matter dualism whereby matter was viewed as inherently evil and unholy.[54] It has been this influence of Platonic paganism whereby Christians have been tempted to separate supposedly unholy physical elements from connection to the pure and spiritual realm above.[55] A close look at Baker’s words reveals he connected this “crass paganism” with the distinctly RC elements of medieval history (“relics, holy bones, shrines, and crusades.”) He thereby implemented a false dichotomy: either one is on the side of the RCC with all its Judaizing excesses, or one is with the Baptists. Baker left no place for the STs of the Magisterial Reformation. He tellingly ended his chapel sermon with a bare quotation of Romans 11:6—“If by grace, then is it no more of works…” (KJV).[56] This Yale-educated Baptist judged sacramental grace to be unchangeably wedded to the apostate ST of Rome. Intellect was not Baker’s shortcoming, thus tradition-colored lenses must have been.

Writing as if in response to Baker’s sermon itself, Robert Kolb argues on just how Christian it is to maintain a robust confession of sacramental grace:

“For a [Gnostic] worldview which connects abstract Spirit with the Good and finds the material world inferior if not downright evil, the coming of God, the Good, into human flesh and bones is at least impossible and perhaps blasphemy of the worst sort. For this reason spiritualizing Christians of every age have striven with imagination and verve to squeeze the biblical message into the shapes prescribed by Plato or other spiritualizers.”[57]

Even within the Presbyterian and Calvinist camp there have been Platonic misgivings with an accompanying intramural debate over these five centuries.[58] Yet within these discussions most Calvinists would not outright anathematize sacramental grace.

Baker (like others) indeed laid down the gauntlet on fellow Baptists who might suggest a move toward sacramental grace, yet the underlying argument appears to be a straw man resting on a false dichotomy; Baptists can and should do better than this.

Sacramental without Compromise?

Having formed an identity as Separatists within Protestantism, Baptists have historically resisted ecumenical dialogue and unions.[59] Survival as a minority entails suspicion to outside customs and traditions, yet even so over the past 150 years some Baptist groups have joined ecumenical discussions.[60] It does seem, however, that the Baptist groups who are more likely to be open to “sacramental” grace are also more likely to join ecumenical dialogue, and these groups on average seem less “evangelical.”[61] Harry McBeth observes the “greatest difference” between them being perspectives on baptism—and he notes that the sacramental Baptists even affirm “infant baptism under some circumstances . . . and teach that baptism conveys specific grace.”[62] Against these, he immediately reminds, “the evangelical group . . . would disagree.”[63] It is within this latter group that the Reformed Baptists would be classified—these are confessional, pious, conservative Christians who do not trade detailed, confessional truth for the sake of ecumenical unity. If McBeth has properly distinguished between sacramental and evangelical Baptists, the question is: may evangelical/confessional Baptists also embrace sacramental grace without falling into doctrinal compromise? The question here is not generally the goodness of any given ecumenical movement, but rather if the Reformed Baptist (who already sees ecumenical dialogue as generally leading to the compromise of truth), may embrace sacramental grace without also relinquishing solid confessional boundaries. Framed another way, the question is whether sacramental grace and undiluted Reformed Baptist theology are mutually exclusive.

The issue at stake in exploring a revised ST is that sacramental baptism is the opposite of the tradition of baptism as Separationism (see above). Note here that in his comprehensive work on the recovery of sacramental grace for Baptists, Anthony Cross immediately addresses “Baptism in Ecumenical Discussions” at the front end of the book; the connection between sacramental grace and ecumenical fellowship is broadly assumed when addressing this subject.[64] Of special note is Cross’s recognition of “conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church which began in 1990,” stemming from “sacramental”—read again, ‘non-evangelical’—Baptists who are willing to move toward (even) Rome through the means of revised ST.[65] This is a horror to the Reformed and evangelical/confessional Baptist, and as such turns him or her away from such obvious compromise of the gospel.[66]

Therefore the way forward for the Reformed Baptist is through an examination of the appropriateness of the categories in use. We have seen those Baptists who are willing to consider sacramental grace castigated for their reputed compromise of the gospel in and through ecumenical dialogue, and we have also seen the long tradition of stouthearted, Separationist, evangelical Baptists who grip the confessions so tightly that the thought of sacramental grace is equated with crass paganism—but here we inquire for a middle way wherein the rich confessionalism of the Reformed Baptist may be informed by that of the Magisterial, gospel-confessing Reformation bodies via Scripture. Few confessional Lutherans or Calvinists would discuss union with the RCC at any meaningful level, and yet these Reformation bodies believe in sacramental grace through baptism. There is, therefore, the possibility of the Reformed Baptist embracing meaningful change in the definition of how grace is received, how salvation is applied, and how God works his sovereign will in and among the church.

Baptism and New Birth

On the front end of this consideration, the Reformed Baptist must disagree with the thesis of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry where it says “The need” is “to recover baptismal unity . . . as it is central for . . . genuine partnership within the Christian communities.”[67] Rather, paramount in the praxis of Reformed Baptist polity is unity in the experience of the new birth. Baptism is a supporting element of that new birth, whether interpreted sacramentally or as a mere symbol—in either case the Reformed Baptist must refer to the new birth as the focal point of Christian unity. This, then, is the remaining question for the Reformed Baptist: in what way might baptism be instrumental in the creation of saving faith, given that regeneration does not usually happen at the moment of baptism? There is certainly more than enough Scripture to suggest an intimate link between baptism and the new birth, as for instance Paul’s earnest cry “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4 ESV). Given the nature of Baptist theology regarding the progression of the redemptive-historical covenants, credobaptism is the correct conclusion concerning the proper administration of baptism. Even so, the WCF—notwithstanding its paedobaptist Covenant Theology!—offers insightful language on the link between baptism and the new birth:

“The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet . . . the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.”[68]

And by this inference drawn from the doctrines of election and regeneration, WCF offers a consideration to Reformed Baptists by which a revised ST is possible. If Scripture teaches that baptism is a means of God’s saving grace, and if credobaptism is the proper mode of baptism, then by inference God applies the grace of baptism in granting saving faith regardless of when in time baptism is administered in reference to the moment of regeneration.

Pushing further this concept of revised categories, it is helpful to consider the relationship in Protestantism between Scripture and tradition. Alister McGrath writes “the magisterial reformers had a very positive understanding of tradition . . . although the radical reformers did indeed adopt the more negative attitude.”[69] One might recognize in the split between Magisterial and radical Reformation the Reformed Baptist living with one foot in each world, stretching theologically toward WCF and Augsburg, yet with the ecclesiological instincts of the Anabaptists. Be that as it may, Reformed Baptists are obligated to return to Scripture alongside their Lutheran and Calvinist brethren, hearing the tradition of the Reformation as touching sacramental grace. If nothing else, it is evident that the gospel has not been lost or compromised by the variant ecclesiology and ST of these communions, and so the sacramental grace of their confessions may be considered as compatible with the otherwise sound, biblical theology of the Reformed Baptists.

Sacramental Considerations

The Baptist heritage has for centuries continued under the pall of reactionary survivalism. Having navigated periods of intense persecution or isolation for holding to a free-church, credobaptist foundation, the consideration of moving back toward the ST of the Magisterial Reformation has often been met with scorn among even the greatest Baptist minds. It was from the state churches of Rome and Reformation that the lowly Baptists received their persecutions, and as such the intimately connected ecclesiology and STs of these communions are viewed through Baptist eyes as a single, functional unit of error, or even apostasy.

As a result, the otherwise sound basis of Baptist theology (a progressive covenant theology) has grown intertwined with the traditions associated with surviving as Separatists. The baptism of Baptists, therefore, is truly separate from those of the Magisterials—yet too often without adequate, critical interaction to support the position.

Baptists have spoken with a general consensus over these four centuries, rejecting paedobaptism along with sacramental grace as if these are inseparable doctrines; in fact there is much room here to explore the Scriptures in new light. No longer are Baptists eking out an identity as those ready to be exterminated by Rome or a hostile queen—in this twenty-first century Baptists cover the globe and live as the majority denomination in many lands. In light of this blessing, there is an opening to refresh old presuppositions under the Reformation banner: the Lutheran and Calvinist confessional traditions have plowed much good ground in reclaiming ST from platonic coloring. Though the paedobaptist conclusions reached by these Magisterial confessions will never be kosher in Baptist houses of worship, yet the blessings of divine grace in the waters of baptism can and should spur Baptist scholastic and pastoral study.

The gospel held dear by those of the confessional Reformation bodies—the gospel of the five solas, the gospel of miraculous, monergistic grace—is not seriously compromised by the definitions of sacramental grace in either Magisterial tradition, be they in error or not. Present and future Baptists at every level of the church must push aside surface-level arguments like those referenced in this paper, for if God has promised to be the primary actor in baptism, then it is a glaring shame each time a Baptist pastor declares the act to be a mere symbol of salvation, or primarily an act of the Christian. In this regard, the lowly free-church Baptist must yield to the Reformation tradition of semper reformanda, seek greater harmony with the testimony of the Scriptures, and sit at the feet of the Magisterial fathers who have written for our common peace in the churches of Jesus Christ.


[1]. Anthony R. Cross, Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), 15 n. 63. Here Cross cites Peter J. Leithart, a notable Presbyterian scholar, as admitting the early, normative practice of credobaptism in church history. My working assumption in this paper is that the apostolic faith is most accurately represented within the general family of Calvinistic credobaptists; cf. Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1891), 57-62.

[2]. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v. “Baptists”; Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2010), 2:151. Here González notes “…in general [Baptists] drew their inspiration from Calvin, Zwingli, and the other Swiss Reformers. Some of the more radical drew on the Anabaptist tradition.”

[3]. The Baptist tradition both precedes and includes the Anabaptists; although strictly speaking Reformed Baptists share more theological pedigree with the Calvinist Reformation. See Ernest A. Payne, The Fellowship of Believers: Baptist Thought and Practice Yesterday and Today (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1952), 12, 72-73; Philip Schaff, “The Anabaptists and Mennonites,” in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. Philip Schaff, Volume 1 (1931; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 844; Donald F. Durnbaugh, The Believers’ Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism (New York: Macmillan, 1968; repr., Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985), 88-101; Vedder, Short History, 57-62, 86-87; H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 20-25.

[4]. Baptists generally refer to the sacraments as “ordinances” to differentiate semantically from the RCC. See Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1907; repr., 1976), 930; Robert A. Baker, “Baptist Sacramentalism,” in Chapel Messages, eds. H. C. Brown, Jr. and Charles P. Johnson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 24.

[5]. Stanley J. Grenz, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as Community Acts: Toward a Sacramental Understanding of the Ordinances,” in Baptist Sacramentalism, eds. Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson, vol. 5, Studies in Baptist History and Thought (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2003), 77; W.T. Whitley, A History of British Baptists (London: Charles Griffin & Company, 1923), 101.

[6]. Baker, “Baptist Sacramentalism,” 24-25; W.T. Conner, Christian Doctrine (Nashville: Broadman, 1937), 273. Notice here Conner excludes the middle, i.e. does not allow for the validity of fellow Reformation churches who hold to the five solas and who also confess sacramental grace.

[7]. Whitley, British, 25 n.*. Here Whitley feels the need to note “one of many signs that…[the RCC] and Baptists are on opposite poles.” Whitley is referred to as “the doyen of Baptist historians…” in Christopher J. Ellis, “The Baptism of Disciples and the Nature of the Church,” in Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, eds., Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 339.

[8]. These two confessional bodies represent the Magisterial Reformation. Space would not allow a survey of the minor varieties of Baptist interpretations of ST, so I am choosing to interact mainly with the broader Calvinistic (Reformed) Baptist tradition as that Baptist body most closely related to the Magisterial Reformation. Generally any critique of ST that applies to the Reformed Baptist can apply to other Baptist groups.

[9]. Canons and Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, A.D. 1563, in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. Philip Schaff, Volume 2 (1931; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 119-179ff. Here the synod leaves no room for ecumenical consensus: if a person does not consent wholly and without reservation to the dogmatic decrees of the Magisterium concerning all of ST, i.e. by being a faithful Roman Catholic, then that person is “anathema.”

[10]. Or as Ernest Payne asked, “What is the Church, and what is its relation to the gospel?” Payne, Fellowship, 8; cf. Whitley, British, 4-5.

[11]. Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994), para. 1087.

[12]. Ibid., para. 1127.

[13]. Ibid., para. 819.

[14]. Ibid., para. 1108.

[15]. Philip Melanchthon et al., “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” Art. 39, in Paul Timothy McCain et al., eds., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 300.

[16]. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 4, chaps. 5-11 &c., http://www.ccel.org.

[17]. The Augsburg Confession, Arts. VII and VIII, in McCain et al., Concordia, 34; Calvin, Inst., 4.1.9; “The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England,” Art. XIX, in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. Philip Schaff, Volume 3 (1931; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 499.

[18]. Whitley, British, 19; J. William Angell, “The Baptist Understanding of How Grace is Received,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 19; Payne, Fellowship, 16, 20-21.

[19]. E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 277; cf. Whitley, British, 9-12; Vedder, Baptists, 40-44.

[20]. J.H.Y. Briggs, The English Baptists of the Nineteenth Century (Didcot, England: Baptist Historical Society, 1994), 43; cf. Whitley, British, 10-12; Durnbaugh, Believers’, 94-100. Also note McBeth, Heritage, 513-514: the possibility of extreme Separationism in some Baptist groups such as the “Restoration Church” who live communally and in distrust toward all other Christian denominations.

[21]. Whitley, British, 20. The English Separatists became the General Baptists (Arminian), and the Independents became the Particular Baptists (Calvinist), though the distinctive Baptist boundaries for both are virtually identical, such that the history here recounted can help illustrate the ST of Reformed Baptists; although it is not, strictly speaking, the stream of Baptist history that most directly flowed into the Reformed Baptist churches.

[22]. Payne, Fellowship, 17-19.

[23]. Whitley, British, 9-12.

[24]. John Smyth, “The Confession of Faith Published in Certain Conclusions by the Remainders of Mr. Smyth’s Company after his death,” [ca. 1612-1613], Art. 65., in William Joseph McGlothlin, ed., Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911; repr., Memphis, TN: General Books, LLC, 2012), 25.

[25]. Note the full title of the 1646 First London Confession: “A Confession of Faith of seven Congregations or Churches of Christ in London, which are commonly (but unjustly) called Anabaptists” (London: Matthew Simmons, 1646), as quoted in James M. Renihan, ed., True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family (Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004), 3. Renihan here notes the “rumors [abounding] that this burgeoning group of illegal congregations held nefarious views similar to the execrated Anabaptists of Münster…” emphasis original.

[26]. John H.Y. Briggs, “Confessional Identity, Denominational Institutions and Relations with Others: A Study in Changing Contexts,” in Philip E. Thompson and Anthony R. Cross, eds., Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 11, Recycling the Past or Researching History? Studies in Baptist Historiography and Myths (Waynesboro: GA, Paternoster, 2005), 3.

[27]. Ibid., 3; Durnbaugh, Believers’, 69-71.

[28]. Jonathan H. Rainbow, “‘Confessor Baptism’, The Baptismal Doctrine of the Early Anabaptists,” in Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 190.

[29]. Grenz, “Community Acts,” 80-81.

[30]. Smyth, “The Confession,” Arts. 71., 73., Baptist Confessions, 25.

[31]. A Confession of Faith, 1646, Renihan, ed., True Confessions, 41-42.

[32]. “A Confession of Faith: Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations of Christians (baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country,” CHAP. XXIX (London: Benjamin Harris, 1677), as quoted in James M. Renihan, ed., True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family (Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004), 180.

[33]. Ibid.; Grenz, “Community Acts,” 77-80.

[34]. Andrew Fuller, The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1825), 583.

[35]. Vedder, Short History, 29ff.

[36]. Ibid. This again demonstrates the indissoluble link in the Baptist mind between ecclesiology and ST.

[37]. Strong, Systematic, 931.

[38]. Wayne C. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 954.

[39]. Cross, Recovering, 7-8, n. 32.

[40]. E.g. a sound Calvinist perspective on the ongoing vitality of this gospel principal: R. Scott Clark, “Why Is Sola Fide So Important?,” The Heidelblog, April 16, 2015, accessed April 16 2015, http://heidelblog.net/2015/04/why-is-sola-fide-so-important/.

[41]. Paul Timothy McCain, “Editor’s Introduction to The Augsburg Confession,” in McCain et al., Concordia, 21.

[42]. Augsburg, Art. IV, in McCain et al., Concordia, 32-33. In the editor’s remarks on this article, he notes “There is a historic saying in Lutheranism that the Church stands or falls on the article of justification.”

[43]. Philip Melanchthon, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1530), Art. IV, in McCain et al., Concordia, 82.

[44]. See also Jacob Andreae, The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (1577), Art. III, in McCain et al., Concordia, 536.

[45]. John Calvin, “Letter to Luther (January 21, 1545),” in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, vol. 4, http://www.reformedliterature.com/calvin-letter-cxxiv-to-luther.php? (accessed April 11, 2015).

[46]. Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.2. cf. pars. 21 & 23.

[47]. Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. XI “Of Justification,” http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs (accessed April 11, 2015).

[48]. A Confession of Faith, 1677, Renihan, ed., True Confessions, 111-113.

[49]. These are: sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola Scriptura, soli Deo gloria; being salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, by the authority of Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The origin of this ubiquitous summary of Reformation dogma is obscure.

[50]. E.g. Albert Mohler, “Ask Anything Weekend Edition,” The Briefing podcast, February 14, 2015, 1:06ff., https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/albertmohler.com-briefing/id390278738?mt=2&i=335515072 (accessed April 13, 2015). To a listener question as to whether “baptismal regeneration is a gospel issue,” Dr. Mohler begins his reply “[b.r.] is a real problem because according to Scripture, baptism is an act of obedience…” It is readily apparent there is no category for Dr. Mohler of baptism as means of sacramental grace as well as being an act of obedience.

[51]. Ibid.; Conner, Doctrine, 273.

[52]. Thomas J. Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity, vol. 3 (Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 311, quoted in Cross, Evangelical Sacrament, 173.

[53]. Baker, “Sacramentalism,” in Chapel, 25.

[54]. ODCC, s.v. “Gnosticism.”

[55]. Robert Kolb, “The Formula of Concord and contemporary Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and Anti-Trinitarians,” Lutheran Quarterly 15, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 470.

[56]. Baker, “Sacramentalism,” in Chapel, 28.

[57]. Kolb, “Concord,” 470.

[58]. E.g. Ralph Cunnington, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper: A Blot upon His Labors as a Public Instructor?,” Westminster Theological Journal 73, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 232. Here Cunnington chastises R.L. Dabney for “neo-Platonic assumptions, a conceptual framework that was shared neither by Jesus nor his hearers.”

[59]. McBeth, Heritage, 515-516.

[60]. Ibid., 496-497.

[61]. Ibid., 511. This distinction drawn by McBeth, and I believe accurately so. Synonyms also may be loosely labeled as liberal (sacramental) and conservative (evangelical).

[62]. Ibid.

[63]. Ibid.

[64]. Cross, Evangelical Sacrament, 10-11 ns. 48-52.

[65]. Ibid., 12.

[66]. Ibid., 13, n. 59.

[67]. Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry 1982-1990, Faith and Order Paper 149 (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990), 3, as quoted in Cross, Evangelical Sacrament, 14-15; cf. 15 n. 62 wherein Cross notes “This emphasis on baptismal unity, however, does not receive much support from Baptists and many Evangelicals”…they instead affirm a “common faith, not baptism.” Here Cross quotes from Called to be One (London: Churches Together in England, 1996), 67-70.

[68]. WCF, chap. XXVIII sec. VI.

[69]. Alister McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1998), 181.

Works Cited

1646 First London Confession: A Confession of Faith of seven Congregations or Churches of Christ in London, which are commonly (but unjustly) called Anabaptists. London: Matthew Simmons, 1646. Quoted in True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family, edited by James M. Renihan. Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004. Pp. 2-65.

1677 Second London Confession: A Confession of Faith: Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations of Christians (baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country. London: Benjamin Harris, 1677. Quoted in True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family, edited by James M. Renihan. Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004. Pp. 67-235.

Andreae, Jacob. The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (1577). In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed., edited by Paul Timothy McCain. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Pp. 503-619.

Angell, J. William. “The Baptist Understanding of How Grace is Received.” Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 2 (Spring 1986): Pp. 18-23.

Augsburg Confession. In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed., edited by Paul Timothy McCain. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Pp. 19-63.

Baker, Robert A. “Baptist Sacramentalism.” In Chapel Messages, edited by H. C. Brown, Jr. and Charles P. Johnson. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966. Pp. 21-28.

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry 1982-1990, Faith and Order Paper 149. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990.

Briggs, John H.Y. “Confessional Identity, Denominational Institutions and Relations with Others: A Study in Changing Contexts.” In Studies in Baptist History and Thought, edited by Philip E. Thompson and Anthony R. Cross, Vol. 11. Recycling the Past or Researching History? Studies in Baptist Historiography and Myths. Waynesboro: GA, Paternoster, 2005. Pp. 1-24.

——-. The English Baptists of the Nineteenth Century. Didcot, England: Baptist Historical Society, 1994.

Called to be One. London: Churches Together in England, 1996.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. http://www.ccel.org.

——-. “Letter to Luther (January 21, 1545).” In Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 4. Accessed April 11, 2015. http://www.reformedliterature.com/calvin-letter-cxxiv-to-luther.php?.

Canons and Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, A.D. 1563. In The Creeds of Christendom. Edited by Philip Schaff, Vol. 2. 1931. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007. Pp. 77-206.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994.

Clark, R. Scott. “Why Is Sola Fide So Important?” The Heidelblog. Accessed April 16, 2015. http://heidelblog.net/2015/04/why-is-sola-fide-so-important/.

Conner, W.T. Christian Doctrine. Nashville: Broadman, 1937.

Cunnington, Ralph. “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper: A Blot upon His Labors as a Public Instructor?” Westminster Theological Journal 73, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 215-236.

Cross, Anthony R. Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013.

Durnbaugh, Donald F. The Believers’ Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism. 1968. Reprint, New York: Macmillan; Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985.

Fuller, Andrew. The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller. London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1825.

Ellis, Christopher J. “The Baptism of Disciples and the Nature of the Church.” In Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002. Pp. 333-353.

González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2010.

Grenz, Stanley J. “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as Community Acts: Toward a Sacramental Understanding of the Ordinances.” In Baptist Sacramentalism, edited by Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson, Vol. 5, Studies in Baptist History and Thought. Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2003. Pp. 76-95.

Grudem, Wayne C. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Holifield, E. Brooks. Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Kolb, Robert. “The Formula of Concord and contemporary Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and Anti-Trinitarians.” Lutheran Quarterly 15, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 453-482.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987.

McCain, Paul Timothy. “Editor’s Introduction to The Augsburg Confession” In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed., edited by Paul Timothy McCain. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Pp. 21-25.

McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1998.

Melanchthon, Philip. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1530). In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed., edited by Paul Timothy McCain. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Pp. 67-251.

——-. Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed., edited by Paul Timothy McCain. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Pp. 289-306.

Mohler, Albert. “Ask Anything Weekend Edition.” The Briefing podcast. February 14, 2015. Accessed April 13, 2015. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/albertmohler.com-briefing/id390278738?mt=2&i=335515072.

Nettles, Thomas J. The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity, Vol. 3. Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007. Quoted in Cross, Anthony R. Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013.

Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Payne, Ernest A. The Fellowship of Believers: Baptist Thought and Practice Yesterday and Today. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1952.

Rainbow, Jonathan H. “‘Confessor Baptism’, The Baptismal Doctrine of the Early Anabaptists.” In Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006. Pp. 189-206.

Schaff, Philip. “The Anabaptists and Mennonites.” In The Creeds of Christendom, edited by Philip Schaff, Vol. 1. 1931. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007. Pp. 840-844.

Smyth, John. “The Confession of Faith Published in Certain Conclusions by the Remainders of Mr. Smyth’s Company after his death.” In Baptist Confessions of Faith, edited by William Joseph McGlothlin. Reprint, Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911; Memphis, TN: General Books, LLC, 2012. Pp. 21-27.

Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology. 1907. Reprint, Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1976.

“The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.” In The Creeds of Christendom, edited by Philip Schaff, Vol. 3. 1931. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007. Pp. 486-516.

Vedder, Henry C. A Short History of the Baptists. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1891.

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Whitley, W.T. A History of British Baptists. London: Charles Griffin & Company, 1923.

Finney goes Viral and We All Get Sick

My final paper for my seminary course ending this month (Theology in the Modern Era). Enjoy, comment, pass on with proper credit given.

Grace to y’all



Not a fan.

Not a fan.

The Passing Down of Charles Finney’s Spiritual DNA

            Charles Grandison Finney stands among the most influential Christian leaders since the Reformation. He pushed hard throughout his career against all he perceived to be stultified, spending terrific energy on social justice problems and prodding the sleepy American church culture with a ministry of Revivalism.[1] The fires of revival that he lit burned with hot emotion, as per his philosophy: “unless the religious feelings are awakened and kept excited, counter worldly feeling and excitement will prevail, and men will not obey God.”[2]

Although ordained a Presbyterian minister claiming some level of concord with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Finney worked from a different set of practical theological assumptions in ministry.[3] A lawyer by training, Finney relied on rationalistic deductions in forming what he believed and practiced.[4] He always had his eye on results, and had little patience for the “sophistry of seminary-educated Calvinists” [5] who waited around for God to do a miracle of revival.[6] In crafting a rationalistic, pragmatic ministry, Finney left behind the anthropology and soteriology of the Reformation, as well as its ecclesiology.[7]

It is therefore no exaggeration to interpret Finney as a radical in his root theological commitments;[8] he was convincingly Pelagian as demonstrated in his essential doctrines of sin and humanity, revivalism and moralism.[9]

By extension, whatever had to be said, whatever antics were needed to persuade sinners to repent—these were the very words and actions that Finney would employ.[10] Finney’s innovative, results-driven ministry has been widely admired and mimicked since his day, and has accordingly infected generations of modern Evangelicalism with pragmatic Pelagianism.[11] As such, his influence has been extensively devastating to the Reformation heritage.

Charles Finney the Pelagian

As Pelagius had long before rejected the church’s doctrines of anthropology and grace, so did Finney;[12] both men were intelligent and moralistic, interpreting spiritual passivity in the church as owing to an overemphasis on humankind’s sin nature.[13]

In Memoirs, Finney recounts himself praying fervently for a particular woman to be converted, beseeching “the God of all grace” on her behalf,[14] thus demonstrating an orthodox instinct.[15] It is in spite of this instinct that Finney later wrote concerning revival that “it is not a miracle…There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else.”[16] In this, Finney may be seen to have lived in two different theological worlds—namely, prayer and waiting on God for his grace, while at the same time maneuvering mechanical conversions in people ostensibly possessing libertarian free will.[17]

In the former case, Jonathan Edwards’ influence was ubiquitous in early American religion, and Finney was not to escape the magisterial Puritan’s shadow.[18] Over and above his familiarity with Edwards, Finney had also imbibed the “New Divinity” featured in Samuel Hopkins’ teaching.[19] It was within the innovative approach of Hopkins to original sin that Finney found the knot “loosened between a fallen Adam” and the rest of humanity; and in this he found justification to presuppose libertarian freedom such that sinners may create for themselves regenerate hearts.[20]

For instance, Finney baldy claims that the Christian is quite able to obey God’s moral law just as Christ did.[21] This is possible because “the moral law requires nothing more than honesty of intention,” over against a maniacal strain of the will.[22] Demonstrating his signature rationalism, Finney deduces from his premise that “whenever [the Christian] sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God. If he does not, it must be because the law of God is abrogated.”[23] This maneuver indicates Finney’s fundamental redefinition of the gospel. Instead of the double imputation work of Christ for his people,[24] he offered a Pelagian version of Christ-as-moral-exemplar, teaching “The Christian…is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys.”[25] His reliance on his legal training showed through in every attempt to discuss Christian justification, as for example: “can [the Christian] be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.”[26] Finney pulled no punches in laying the framework for a new Pelagianism, thus describing the doctrine of original sin as “anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma.”[27] As Michael Horton points out, “the doctrine of original sin” is “held by both Roman Catholics and Protestants,” and was denied by a man (Pelagius) “who was condemned by more church councils than any other person in church history.”[28]

Finney’s plain rejection of both the spirit and the substance of the Reformed confessions on grace, gospel, and justification—and with them the heart of the gospel recovery wrought in the magisterial Reformation—made him a corrupting influence as a widely known theologian-revivalist.

Charles Finney’s Sacrament of Revival

            It seems that Finney’s zeal to see religion promoted led him to reinterpret Christianity as a more workable, results-driven system.[29] As he surveyed the seeming apathy of the traditional churches, he opined “The state of the world is [such] . . . that religion must be mainly promoted by means of revivals.”[30] His choice of the word “means” here reflects his exaltation of the extraordinary over that of ordinary, mundane “means of grace” used in the church from ancient times.[31] Revival was therefore not only an aspect of Finney’s appearances, but was itself his choice sacrament.

In the early nineteenth century, revivals throughout America were so frequent that the line between a genuine move of God’s Spirit and unhinged enthusiasm had been badly blurred.[32] Regarding Finney’s pragmatic Revivalism, Iain Murray notes it “did not so much derive from Finney as an individual as it did from the whole situation out of which he emerged;” yet he was to become the most prominent American revivalist.[33]

As the chief proponent of the culture of Revivalism, and with his characteristic fervor for souls, Finney excoriated sinners for holding back their allegiance to God.[34] He was not one to wait around under the ordinary ministry of word and sacrament, remarking in his dramatic fashion “No doubt more than five [billion] have gone down to hell, while the church has been dreaming, and waiting for God to save them without the use of means.”[35] The “means” that Finney here claims the church had not used are not the historic, duly “constituted means of grace” in the preaching of Scripture and the sacraments, rather he lamented the lack of revivals in church history. [36]

Upstate New York’s hot-blooded preacher wanted results. There were to be no excuses admitted into Finney’s court of law: if one had working ears and half of their mind, the only thing stopping them from obeying God was their own “stubborn” refusal.[37] To this end, Finney entitled part of his magnum opus “How to Promote a Revival,” whereby instructions are given to assist fellow preachers in manipulating the mechanics of a revival of religion.[38] As the conjurer of revival, Finney believed little to be off limits in getting results.[39]

A strong postmillennialist, he believed his “new measures” of Revivalism were to hasten the golden age.[40] Yet whatever the end goal, Finney’s new ecclesiology—that of using any means to get results—was to become the model for those who also hope to take a shortcut to whatever currently defines ministry success. For Finney and those who have followed in his footsteps, the allure of results, and of “control[ing] their own religious destiny” has proven an idol too good to refuse.[41]

Influence and Results

Among Evangelical leaders since his time, Finney is often recognized as “the most widely known and most successful American revivalist.”[42] In promoting the new measures that revolutionized much of conventional Protestantism, he has inspired generations hence who have adopted his ministry philosophy.[43]

Finney’s pragmatic Pelagianism and “naturalistic moralism” are now a part of the DNA of the broad Evangelical family of movements—not the least of which is the pernicious “church growth movement.”[44] Yet it was not church growth that Finney left in his wake, for as the revivals left town, the disciples also disappeared.[45] As little as a couple of years after revival had broken out in Upstate New York, a local minister reported that “everything looked black and desolate” in specific regard to the “raging flame” that “had passed through” in Finney’s revivals.[46] Yet these historical notes have not curtailed the legacy effect of Finney being a successful evangelist worth mimicking.

From the immediate followers of Finney up through D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and up to the brand-name preachers of our day—Evangelicalism in America has become inseparable from its Revivalism and celebrity culture.[47] In the current context, it has been the broad “megachurch model” of Evangelicalism that has been functioning as the chief heir to the spirit of Finney’s pragmatic Pelagianism.[48]

In Finney’s day, the pragmatic ministry looked stern, high-minded, and had an air of gravity about doctrines of the faith (as went the culture). In the postmodern incarnation, pragmatic ministry looks chipper, sycophantic, and is flippant about doctrine—even hostile toward Christians who ask for more substance in church.[49] Although the tone and look has changed, the theology of today’s megachurch movement operates upon the same foundation of pragmatic Pelagianism that underpinned Finney’s Revivalism.[50]

In what has become a rather average example of this, for the grand opening of the Mall of America, a church service was held in the mall, deemed “A Sunday Mallelujah!”[51] Thousands of attendees arrived and participated in what can only be described as the perfect self-parody of the megachurch: consumers in a mall of choices—the literal biggest mall ever—sampling the latest fad in religious flavor.[52] Once more, the root is pragmatism: since it can be done, it should be done, seeing the church-in-the-mall was “effective evangelism.”[53] This is the trademark of contemporary megachurch Evangelicalism—whatever ideas can be utilized to bring in more people, these should be implemented—doctrine and tradition are optional.[54] Thomas Oden put his finger on this spot when he judged “there has been a wholesale devaluation of the currency of Christian language, symbolism, teaching, and witness—a total sellout and bankruptcy to support the fixed habits of modern addictions,” which addictions change from generation to generation.[55]

Although it may seem improbable at first glance, the megachurch movement is the blossom of Finney’s ministry, updated with a sweeter voice and a frozen smile to quell the skittishness of soft-minded Western consumers. The historic church universal, including the martyrs, those in other lands living under threat of persecution and death, the Reformers, the apostles et alia would probably not recognize their religion if they were to walk into one of our slick revival machines known as American megachurches.

Conclusion: A Grim Present, a Questionable Future

Where Finney was brash and moralistic, his heirs are docile, comforting characters.[56] In either case, the assumption has been that the audience is made up of “self-actualiz[ing]”[57] agents who just need to be convinced, on some level, to change their thoughts and hearts—and to embark upon a more or less moral life. The difference in style is according to the era and culture in which Revivalism is practiced—with Jesus fit somewhere into the system.

Where Finney was focused on providing theological justifications for his new measures, so the new pragmatists have found little need to delve into the Christian traditions.[58] Where Finney had to answer to scholastic Protestantism, modern revivalists need only give the most fleeting lip service to theological challenges.[59] Both cases are the maneuverings of salespeople who know their audiences.

And it is at this point that the Evangelical tradition stands upon a precipice. Either a great awakening will grip our churches, shaking us loose from trivial excitements and celebrity encounters, or we will follow the ghost of Charles Finney off the cliff down into the bewildered footnotes of future generations. The failure in the system is all theological, and all wrapped in a reflexive eschewing of church history; perhaps the Lord will have mercy on his Western churches and grant a genuine revival of catholic, orthodox, average Christianity. This generation needs reformation in like degree to the church of the late medieval period—thus we hope, pray, and work toward that end.


[1]. David B. Chesebrough, Charles G. Finney: Revivalistic Rhetoric (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 43-47; Iain H. Murray, Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 233-245.

[2]. Charles G. Finney, “What a Revival of Religion Is,” Lecture I, introduction, in Lectures on Revivals of Religion, http://www.ccel.org.

[3]. Charles G. Finney, Memoirs (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1876), 42-46. Here Mr. Finney remarks concerning the standard doctrine of substitutionary atonement in Reformed theology “that this was absurd,” “… it seemed to me that Jesus only satisfied public justice, and that that was all that the government of God could require.”; Marianne Perciaccante, Calling Down Fire: Charles Grandison Finney and Revivalism in Jefferson County, New York, 1800-1840 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003), 5; Murray, Revivalism, 244-246.

[4]. Chesebrough, Rhetoric, 8-9; Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 35-36. Here the author notes how Finney compared the congregation to a jury, needing persuasion to make a decision for moral change.

[5]. Hambrick-Stowe, Evangelicalism, 2.

[6]. Finney, “Revival,” Lecture I, chap. I, par. 3, in Lectures; Chesebrough, Rhetoric, 46.

[7]. Finney, Memoirs, 45-46; Bob DeWaay, “Charles Finney’s Influence on American Evangelicalism: Exposing Charles Finney’s Heretical Teachings,” in Critical Issues Commentary 53 (July/August 1999): under “Finney and Theological Innovation,” http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue53.htm (accessed November 25, 2014); Chesebrough, Rhetoric, 47.

[8]. Finney is recalled as the father of modern Evangelical Christian feminism and egalitarianism in Donald W. Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1976), 88, 101; cf. Hambrick-Stowe, Evangelicalism, 141-142.

[9]. Finney, Memoirs, 45-46. In regard to the cardinal Reformed doctrines of humankind’s depravity and moral inability, Finney here states “These doctrines I could not receive.” See also Hambrick-Stowe, Evangelicalism, 25: “Finney was convinced that in certain key areas of doctrine, specifically on original sin and the atonement, the traditional Calvinist position officially held by Presbyterians was unreasonable, unbiblical, and, from the viewpoint of evangelical preaching, impractical;” 80-81.

[10]. Finney, “Revival,” Lecture I, sec. I., par. 3, in Lectures; Finney, “A Wise Minister Will be Successful,” Lecture XI, entire, in Lectures; Murray, Revivalism, 244-249.

[11]. Murray, Revivalism, 249; Hambrick-Stowe, Evangelicalism, 80-81; cf. Finney, “Revival,” Lecture I, introduction, in Lectures: “Religion is the work of man. It is something for man to do. It consists in obeying God with and from the heart. It is man’s duty.” Here and elsewhere “Evangelical” is being defined as a generally conservative, intellectual tradition found within most denominations descended from the Reformation a la Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth: The Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 22-23.

[12]. Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002), 270, 274-275; Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v. “Pelagianism.”

[13]. Finney, “When a Revival is to be Expected,” Lecture II, sec. I., par. 3, in Lectures; Chesebrough, Rhetoric, 8-10; Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2010), 1:214-245; DeWaay, Influence, under “Finney on Human Ability.”

[14]. Finney, Memoirs, 37-39.

[15]. “Orthodox” will be defined in this paper as generally conforming to the Augustinian view of grace.

[16]. Finney, “Revival,” Lecture I, chap. I, par. 2, in Lectures.

[17]. “Libertarian free will” defined as that of someone having the ability to make uncoerced decisions wherein the opposite decision was truly possible, free of determination from any outside agents or factors.

[18]. Hambrick-Stowe, Evangelicalism, 29-30.

[19]. Ibid., 30-31.

[20]. Ibid., 31.

[21]. Charles G. Finney, “Lecture IX: Unity of Moral Action. Can Obedience to Moral Law Be Partial?” sec. 2, par. 2, in Systematic Theology, http://www.ccel.org.

[22]. Ibid.

[23]. Ibid., sec. 5, par. 1, under “Objection. Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?”

[24]. E.g. John Owen, “Imputation, and the nature of it; with the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in particular,” in The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; explained, confirmed, and vindicated, http://www.ccel.org.

[25]. Finney, “Lecture IX”, “Unity of Moral Action. Can Obedience to Moral Law be Partial?” sec. 5, par. 1, under “Objection. Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?” in Systematic.

[26]. Ibid., “Lecture X: Obedience Entire,” sec. 7. Note the terminology and cadence of a lawyer.

[27]. Ibid., “Lecture XXIII: Moral Depravity,” under Psalm li. 5; Olson, Belief, 274. Finney is here labeled a “Semi-Pelagian,” but in substance the usage by Olson is the same as what is normally described as Pelagianism.

[28]. Michael S. Horton, “The Legacy of Charles Finney,” in Modern Reformation 4, no. 1 (Jan./Feb. 1995), under “What’s So Wrong with Finney’s Theology?,” http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=625&var3=main&var4=Home (accessed November 25, 2014).

[29]. Finney, Memoirs, 30-31. Here note Finney’s admiration as he watched a prayer meeting that was marked by a flamboyant deacon and its effect on the people in the room; cf. Hambrick-Stowe, Evangelicalism, 28: “…Finney . . . aimed at developing an evangelical theology that would produce conversions in a revival.”

[30]. Finney, “Revival,” Lecture I, introduction, par. 3, in Lectures.

[31]. Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 195, http://www.ccel.org; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q88-100ff, http://www.ccel.org. Finney’s familiarity with the Westminster standards would indicate a conscious use of the word “means” in reference to revivals over against those described here in the catechisms.

[32]. Murray, Revivalism, 163-177. Note “enthusiasm” is here defined in the literal, etymological sense of “God-within-ism,” in contrast to God “extra nos” in the classical Reformation use. For “God-within-ism,” see Michael S. Horton, “The Gospel and the Sufficiency of Scripture: Church of the Word or Word of the Church?,” in Modern Reformation 19, no. 6 (Nov./Dec. 2010), under heading, http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=1191 (accessed November 30, 2014).

[33]. Murray, Revivalism, 238.

[34]. Finney, Memoirs, 62-63.

[35]. Finney, “Revival,” Lecture I, par. 3, in Lectures. Emphasis mine.

[36]. Francis R. Beattie, “The Presbyterian Standards,” in Westminster Shorter Catechism Project, sec. IV http://www.shortercatechism.com/resources/beattie/wsc_be_091-093.html (accessed November 30, 2014).

[37]. Finney, “False Comfort for Sinners,” Lecture XVII, sec. 10, par. 3, in Lectures.

[38]. Ibid., “How to Promote a Revival,” Lecture III.

[39]. Murray, Revivalism, 245-252; Chesebrough, Rhetoric, 35-36, 46-47, 65.

[40]. Finney, “Hindrances to Revivals,” Lecture XV, sec. III. 9, in Lectures; Murray, Revivalism, 240-242.

[41]. Randall Balmer, “Critical Junctures in American Evangelicalism: II The Transition from Postmillennialism to Premillennialism,” in Ashland Theological Journal 38 (2006): 51.

[42]. V. Raymond Edman, Finney Lives On: The Secret of Revival in Our Time (Wheaton, IL: Scripture Press, 1951), 15, quoted in Dayton, Heritage, 15.

[43]. R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 185; Murray, Revivalism, 240-242.

[44]. Horton, Legacy, under “What’s So Wrong With Finney’s Theology?”; Bob DeWaay, “Recovering Reformation Theology: Rejecting Synergism and Returning to Monergism,” in Critical Issues Commentary 93 (March/April 2006): under “Ephesians 2:8, 9,” http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue93.htm (accessed December 3, 2014).

[45]. Murray, Revivalism, 295.

[46]. John H. Rice, A Memoir of the Rev. John H. Rice, D.D. (Philadelphia: J. Whetham, 1835), 344.

[47]. Shayne Lee & Phillip Luke Sinitiere, Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 17-24; Billy Graham has given unqualified approval to Finney, e.g. “Through his Spirit-filled ministry, uncounted thousands came to know Christ . . . resulting in one of the greatest periods of revival…” Billy Graham, “Foreword” to Lewis A. Drummond, Charles Grandison Finney and the Birth of Modern Evangelism (London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 1983), 6, quoted in Murray, Revivalism, 298.

[48]. R. Albert Mohler Jr., “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?”, AlbertMohler.com blog, entry posted May 1, 2012, http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/05/01/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism/ (accessed December 4, 2014); Lee & Sinitiere, Mavericks, 1-3. Note that each of the main subjects in this volume is a leader of a large church or movement.

[49]. David Hughes, “Foodies – The Big Burger,” sermon, November 2, 2014, 36:00ff., http://cbglades.com/teachings/foodies/1/ (accessed December 4, 2014). Here Pastor Hughes compares Christians asking for “more doctrine…more worship” to being the excrement of the body of Christ. Several more near identical examples could be given from recent sermons in megachurches around America.

[50]. Michael Scott Horton, Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 47-57; Kimon Howland Sargeant, Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Non-Traditional Way (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 108.

[51]. Os Guinness, Dining with the Devil: The Megachurch Movement Flirts with Modernity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 11.

[52]. Sargeant, Seeker, 106 ff.; Thomas Oden, After Modernity, What? Agenda for Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 24.

[53]. Guinness, Dining, 11-12. Emphasis mine.

[54]. Walt Kallestad, “Think Like a Missionary, Act Like a Marketer: Effective Ways to Take the Church Public,” in Making Church Relevant, ed. Dale E. Galloway (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1999), 71-74; Billy Hornsby, The Attractional Church: Growth through a Refreshing, Relational, and Relevant Church Experience (New York: Faith Words, 2011), 24-30, 153ff; Guinness, Dining, 57-59; Lee & Sinitiere, Mavericks, 86.

[55]. Oden, Modernity, 31; Horton, America, 60-71.

[56]. Lee & Sinitiere, Mavericks, 30.

[57]. Ibid.

[58]. Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Waco: Word, 1982), 98: …nothing has been “more destructive…to the evangelistic enterprise, than the unchristian, uncouth strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”

[59]. Michael Horton, Christless Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 73-74.

Romans 8 if we could Really Lose our Salvation

Will God allow His children, born from His own Spirit, adopted into His family in Christ, and indwelt by His Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14)… to apostatize and lose their justified, beloved place in His sight?

Understand what is at stake: Many who love Christ, His Word, His promises, and His gospel nonetheless teach that the regeneration unto eternal life is revocable upon crossing certain boundary markers. Put another way, they teach us that Christ has no sure hold on His people – any one of us could apostatize, lose our justified standing before the Father, who disowns us, the Holy Spirit leaves us, and we are once again headed for hell.

This is detrimental to the Christian understanding of salvation.

What would Romans 8 (Paul’s magnum opus on Christian security in Christ) look like if God actually let His children lose their faith and die under His wrath? It would be ugly – check it out:

Continue reading

But Can’t we Still Fall Away from Christ?

Am I Really His?

I have seen this question consume people, and I’ll bet you have too. Am I really saved? Do I believe enough in the Lord Jesus Christ, or is my belief just an illusion? Why is there still sin in my life if I am a Christian? Does my baptism really count if I walk away from the church? How much repentance do I have to have to know I’ve really repented? Am I really an adopted, regenerated, justified child of God, or am I a deluded enemy of Christ, being fattened for the slaughter? The Word of God has answers for you and me – we do not have to live in fear. Let’s dive into this question with confidence.

Blind Eyes in a Sunny Field

Picture the Christian life as a literal walk through a big field. The goal of reaching the presence of Jesus is on the far end of the field, and we begin many miles from it.sunny field Only now imagine if our eyes did not work, and yet we were to be led by the shining of the sun (Son) out in front of us. This is the walk of faith – it is our walk through this life, this world of shadows. We do not yet see Him – our eyes are closed! Yet He calls us to walk towards Him in repentance. As baby Christians we begin to totter and feel our way through the field, eyes closed but smiling – we know our Lord and best friend is shining on us from the other end of the field. We feel the warmth of the sun on our faces as we are facing Him, walking towards Him in repentant faith.

Yummy Remembrances of the Death we are Escaping

Sin is a lot like a distraction in this analogy. We are sidetracked by the smell of something tasty off to our left or right, so we deviate from the path that Christ calls us to walk. We sniff our way over into the bushes and begin to eat poison berries because they just taste so good. We know they are poison, but we figure we’ll have some anyways, because we’re hungry. While we’re in the berry bush, we fall asleep under the effects of the poison, and lie down in the shrubs and grass. What happens when we awaken? We’re disoriented, we feel around in the grass, and we immediately think of the sun – where is He? He is yet still in the same place He was when we went off course – shining down His warmth and love on us, but in our nap time we lost track of which direction we were going. Sin disorients us, and messes with our faith in Christ. Yet we get back up by His grace, feel the heat of the sun, and begin walking toward Him again. Many Christians begin to doubt they are in the field (the church) at this point. “How could I be so blind as to eat the berries?” How could I truly be facing the correct end of the field if I’m off the path eating poison? In His love for us, our Father allows us to make our sinful mistakes, to taste the bitterness when we have not trusted Him – and to feel the disorientation of being off of His path. All of the consequences of sin are used by the Father to discipline His children (Heb. 12:5-11), and to keep us from ultimate, eternal destruction. His promises given to us in our baptism are extended forever – there is nothing but grace for those who are His (Rom. 8:28-39)

We Cannot be Lost if we Are in His Field

This is the bottom line of the Christian gospel given to us in Christ Jesus. This is the sure foundation underneath all of our experience – that we receive warnings such as Hebrews 3:12-13 “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” as a part of the means that God uses to confirm His elect people in their salvation, as the next verse assures us “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14 NKJV). May we not force a rationalistic reading of these texts wherein we negate the clear promises of God to preserve infallibly each of His regenerate, justified people. Allow the tension to stand: God gives dire warnings to His people who cannot be lost that they ought to hold fast to Christ so as not to be lost. Thank You, Father, for Your wisdom and love for us.

So Abide in Him

We’re in His field, walking toward the sun. We’re His beloved, chosen people. And right there in Hebrews 3:14, we see the completion of our analogy: We have truly begun walking toward the sun/Son if we continue walking toward Him. By converse, if one does not continue holding fast the confidence in Christ, he has not begun to trust Christ in the first place. So then, abide in Him my dear friends.

The Field of Salvation is a Globe

It turns out that from God’s perspective (in our analogy) – no matter what direction we are walking in His field, the sun will shine on our faces, drawing us to His warmth and love. The blessed mystery of the faith is that our Father in heaven has set us in a path which cannot but lead to eternal life. All of our stumbling and unbelief will have been part of the gracious means God uses to preserve His people, for Jesus promises “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:37). By. No. Means. All who fall from grace, therefore, are falling away from a relationship to Christ that was never true, never really begun in the first place, though it would appear so to us (think wheat and tares). So as you walk, dear Christian, through this world of sorrows and darkness, know you are in a field that is a globe. You may walk 10,000 miles in a direction that is not perfect, but you have only circled the world of Christ’s keeping power – He is still right there in front of you. You cannot be lost. Meditate on this – Jesus will not lose even one of His weakest sheep. This is the joy-producing, love-emboldening, endurance-creating, and selflessness-promoting grace of God in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for you. He has set you in a broad path, one from which you cannot be lost and destroyed. Believe it, and rest assured in Him. Thanks for reading, -Justin