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Study on Baptism (Review: J.V. Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit)

July 18, 2020 Leave a comment

A book I’ve seen recommended in online discussions, Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, by J.V. Fesko, is one that I have found very helpful and informative.  Its three sections cover a lot of historical theology as well as review of many scriptures and scripture themes related to the sacraments and especially baptism, and development of redemptive-historical/biblical theology of baptism, with exposition of New Testament passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 and 1 Peter 3:20-21.

The overall style is more scholarly and sometimes repetitive — yet the repetition, and frequent use of ‘in other words’ with a restatement in simpler words, assist the understanding.  The history section seemed too lengthy, with more details than I wanted, though the early history along with the section on the Anabaptist history were more interesting.  The chapters in parts II and III were well-written and helpful, a series of expositions on several biblical texts–and relating all the separate parts to the overall narrative flow of scripture, the covenants, and the continuity of the main themes in God’s word.  From the entirety of it, I now have a much clearer understanding of the different views such as the medieval baptismal regeneration and infusion of grace, and the different emphases and nuances of the Reformers regarding the sacraments, the roles of the sacraments along with the written Word, and the idea of the blessing and judgment “double-edged sword” sides regarding the benefits (to the true, invisible church of believers) versus judgments (to the professing but false visible-only church) within the overall covenant community.  As a scholarly-type work, Word, Water, and Spirit includes copious footnote references, and Fesko interacts with the views of past theologians including Luther, Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus (who wrote a Heidelberg Catechism commentary, which I am also reading through this year in calendar-week sequence), explaining where he agrees or disagrees with them.

One section addressed a question/comment from someone who had made a comparison between John the Baptist’s baptism and the later New Testament Christian baptism, wondering what type of participants (individuals vs families) were involved in each.  While a common idea is that Christ instituted baptism by His example of being baptized by John, Fesko contends that Christ instituted baptism in the Great Commission and not in His submission to John’s baptism.

Three key differences noted here:

  1. The redemptive-historical timeframe for John’s ministry: This baptism was not a perpetual rite for Israel but a special sign for that terminal generation  John’s baptism epitomized the particular crisis in covenant history represented by John’s mission as the messenger bearing the Lord’s ultimatum.
  2. John’s ministry was preparatory for the ministry of Christ; his baptism was also preparatory.
  3. John’s baptism was one of repentance, whereas the baptism instituted by Jesus was to be administered in the name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Fesko asserts that there is no textual support for Calvin’s claim that John baptized “into the name of Christ.”

Fesko here focuses on the typical (John’s baptismal ministry) and its fulfillment—Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, as well as the significance of baptism into a name:  the triune God name (also referenced in the shortened form baptized into the name of Jesus, in some instances in the book of Acts), also Paul’s reference in 1 Corinthians that the people were not baptized into his name, the name of Paul (1 Corinthians 1:13-15)

The book is comprehensive, considering many different scriptures and views, and even provides brief treatment (a full chapter) on the issue of paedocommunion, outlining the main scriptures against this idea.  Another book I’ve received (free from a book drawing) and hope to read soon, Cornelis Venema’s Children at the Lord’s Table?, addresses that topic in more depth.  It was interesting to read here, though, of the parallel between the Lord’s Supper and Exodus 24 (not Exodus 12)– The Passover was not an end in itself, but pointed to the covenantal goal of Exodus 24, worshipping and fellowshiping in God’s presence.

Finally, one more interesting thing I liked is that the author consistently and correctly used the scriptural term “last Adam,” rather than the frequent variation of “second Adam.”  As S. Lewis Johnson liked to point out, the scriptural terms Paul used are “the last Adam, and the second man.”  Johnson mentioned one of his teachers, perhaps Chafer, who had added his notes in a book he owned, that it’s “not the second Adam, but the last Adam.” SLJ then pointed out that the term “second Adam” would imply that a third could come along–no, Christ is the last Adam.  Yet I’ve seen it too often in current-day Christian books and articles, the mixing of terms to say “second Adam” rather than “last Adam/second man.”

Overall, Word, Water, and Spirit is a thorough and informative reference work, addressing many scriptures from the Old and New Testament along with historical theology and the views of many theologians down through church history.

 

Romans 7, Hermeneutics, and “Redemptive-Historical” Biblical Theology

November 25, 2019 3 comments

From my recent podcast listening, one episode at the Reformed Forum discussed a “Redemptive-Historical” view of Romans 7 as similar to the content in Galatians 2-4.  Apparently the idea comes from Herman Ridderbos’ writings in the 1960s; whereas the early church thought Romans 7 was describing the apostle Paul before conversion, and Augustine and the Reformers understand Romans 7 as the life of a believer struggling with sin (the view I hold to as well), this other approach takes to spiritualizing Romans 7 as actually about the experiences of Israel—from the time of Sinai and later.  An emphasis here is Romans 7:14, “the law is spiritual,” and that Romans 7 can be connected in its ideas and content with what Paul is saying in the letter to the Galatians.

The podcast gave an introduction to the idea, and the speaker noted that he was still studying and considering the idea.  At this point I would like to read a commentary on Romans, such as the one from Robert Haldane that I’ve had on my “reading to-do” list for a few years.  For now, though, just a few of my observations, for what it’s worth.

In Romans, Paul is talking about the moral law, which is a completely different context from Galatians.  That Romans is referencing the moral law is evident from Romans 7:7, a clear reference to the 10th commandment.  (The late S. Lewis Johnson also noted this – in a sermon from a decidedly dispensational view of the law —  that in Romans 7 Paul is talking about the moral law, as he recalled conversations in his student days at Dallas Seminary with a fellow student who had come to Dallas Seminary, that student having had a Reformed view of the law.)  In Galatians, Paul is clearly talking about the Mosaic law with is ceremonies and the “holiness code” specific to the people of Israel under Moses.  Here I also recall the importance of distinguishing the different meanings and contexts of “law” in our Bibles; see this previous post about seven different New Testament meanings and uses.

So, given the proper context of Romans (moral law), and Galatians (the ceremonial, Mosaic law), this spiritualized view of the text (“Redemptive Historical” rather than the literal—as in normal, plain language meaning) does not fit or make sense.  The apostle Paul in Romans 7 is not contrasting the condition of Israel before they had the law given at Sinai to what they had after Sinai.  In terms of the law that Israel had before Sinai, the Decalogue in its summary form was already understood by them; Exodus 16 comes before Exodus 20, and as Richard Barcellos well noted (in Getting the Garden Right) the descriptions in Exodus 16 about God being greatly vexed at the people in their failure to observe the procedures for collecting of the manna, do not make sense if the one day in seven Sabbath was a completely unknown concept before this point in time.  Yet in Romans 7 Paul is talking about the sin of coveting (the 10th commandment), and the section that includes verse 14, “the law is spiritual,” begins with verse 7, the law telling him “do not covet”– which grounds verse 14 (the law is spiritual) to the context of the moral law—and not the same meaning of law used in Galatians chapters 2 through 4.

Again, biblical interpretation comes back to hermeneutics, and in this case (as so many others), the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic (of normal, plain language use) provides the correct understanding of Romans 7, as over against a spiritualized, and novel approach.  That this particular interpretation, coming out of “biblical theology, redemptive-historical theology,” is a relatively new understanding from the 20th century, not a view held by the historic Christian church over the many previous centuries, is a further reason for caution regarding it.

Conference Lecture Series: The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century

October 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Among the conference lecture series I’ve recently listened to are two “Westminster Confession into the 21st century” (from Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) conferences from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ archive – from 2004 and 2007.  As noted in a previous post these are the readings of scholarly papers, and so the audio recordings provide a type of “audio book” experience on various topics concerning the Westminster Standards and covenant theology.  The lectures feature a variety of speakers: some regulars within the Alliance conferences, along with a few well-known names such as Ligon Duncan and Sinclair Ferguson.  Some of the lectures are more interesting (and easier to follow) than others; the delivery of some is “abridged” with selected readings, skipping over some parts and then continuing to other sections, within the time permitted (about an hour).

The more recent conference lectures/journal articles, back to the fall of 2014, are also available online here.  The audio archive has the benefit of earlier material, such as the two I’ve been listening to:  2004’s Conference “The Richness of Our Theological Heritage” and from 2007, “Systematic Theology: Informing Your Life in Christ.”

The lectures assume a basic knowledge of the Westminster Confession and Reformed theology, and provide introduction to several interesting topics which would be good for further study, including:

  • The Scottish Covenanters and the history of the different sub-groups
  • Good and necessary consequences
  • Christian Liberty
  • The roles of systematic theology and biblical theology (redemptive historical) and the value of both

I’m still listening to the “The Richness of our Theological Heritage” series, and find these lectures another great educational resource, for “seminary-type” teaching beyond the layperson / general audience level.  The full collection, from all past conferences, is available here.