Why Baptists Do Not Count Infant Baptisms: A Friendly Response to Joe Rigney

vishal-banik-JdMihDkP-vc-unsplashWhen it comes to pastors and theologians who stand strong on the Word, strong against the world, and strong in their wise dealings with complex issues, few compare to Joe Rigney. When it comes to contemporary theologians, therefore, I consider his writing some of the best.

When I visited Minneapolis a number of years ago, I had an enjoyable lunch with him and a few other faculty at Bethlehem College and Seminary. And when he took the reins to lead that school I rejoiced. I am thankful for Joe Rigney and will continue to read his works and point people to his writing.

Yet, for that very reason, when he writes something that not only stands against my theological convictions, but something that confuses some of the sheep in my congregation, it is necessary to reply. In what follows, I will offer a three-point engagement with Joe’s recent piece, “Do Infant Baptisms Count? Reconsidering Open Membership.” To be clear, I am not responding point by point to Joe Rigney, but offering three substantial arguments for rejecting open membership.

While Joe spells his Baptist identity with a lower case B, and I spell mine with a capital B, the point of difference between us is more than grammar. The issues raised by his article range from the local to universal church, from the nature of the new covenant to the membership of new covenant church, and how churches differing on baptism should relate to one another.

These are important matters which have spawned books, pamphlets, and shorter articles. In what follows I won’t offer a comprehensive reply to Joe’s arguments, but I will offer a substantial one. Again, I write this as a friend and admirer of Joe and his labors. But as a pastor and a seminary professor of a school that seeks to affirm the confessionalism of Presbyterians and Baptists, without muddying the waters between them, I offer this rejoinder. Continue reading

A Theological Appraisal of Marxism

maximilian-scheffler-59dcHbr9N9I-unsplash“Marxism retains all the major structural and emotional factors of biblical religion in a secularized form. Marx, like Moses, is the prophet who leads the new Chosen People, the proletariat, out of the slavery of capitalism into the Promised Land of communism across the Red Sea of bloody worldwide revolution and through the wilderness of temporary, dedicated suffering for the party, the new priesthood.”
— Peter Kreeft —

In 1967, student activist and avowed communist, Rudi Dutschke, made an impassioned speech for revolution by way of a “long march through the institutions.” Influenced by Frankfurt School theorist Antonio Gramsci, Dutschke offered an approach to societal and political change (read: revolution) that has come to see its greatest victories in the presidencies of Barack Obama and Joseph Biden—the former a disciple of Saul Alinsky and the latter a life-long liberal politician who is proving to be the most progressive US President in history.

If you are wondering what has happened to the United States in the last decade and why gender is queer, marriage is antiquated, the nuclear family is White European, chastity is oppressive, and Christianity is harmful, then you must come to grips with many of the ideas put forward during the 1960s. Dutschke was not alone in his student activism, but his notion of a long march through the institutions is illuminating for what came after the 1960s. In fact, it was the playbook endorsed by none other than cultural Marxist, Herbert Marcuse, who wrote in 1972:

To extend the base of the student movement, Rudi Dutschke has proposed the strategy of the long march through the institutions: working against the established institutions while working within them, but not simply by ‘boring from within’, rather by ‘doing the job’, learning (how to program and read computers, how to teach at all levels of education, how to use the mass media, how to organize production, how to recognize and eschew planned obsolescence, how to design, et cetera), and at the same time preserving one’s own consciousness in working with others.

The long march includes the concerted effort to build up counterinstitutions. They have long been an aim of the movement, but the lack of funds was greatly responsible for their weakness and their inferior quality. They must be made competitive. This is especially important for the development of radical, “free” media. The fact that the radical Left has no equal access to the great chains of information and indoctrination is largely responsible for its isolation. (Herbert Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt, 55–56)

So, even though a rise in conservative policies came about between the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, there remained a rising tide of radicals who were marching through the institutions. And today, these are the ones who are currently in charge (along a new generation of radicals taught in the institutions of higher education). These are the ones concocting bills defending post-term abortion, instantiating SOGI policies, celebrating transgenderism, implementing reparations, and threatening the right to exercise religious liberty. Continue reading

Joshua the Priest

b02007a106a73b935c8de8eeb4be056cab88c37fEarlier this year, Crossway published my book The Royal Priesthood and the Glory of God in their Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. In that book I show priesthood begins in the Garden of Eden, develops across the Old Testament, culminates in Jesus Christ, and proliferates in the life of the church. The church is a priesthood of believers with Christ as the great high priest.

In my book, I show many but not all of the people who should be identified as priests. As a “short study,” my book could not cover everything in the Bible, and hence there remain many glorious portraits of the priesthood throughout Scripture. And one of them (not found in my book) is Joshua son of Nun.

Joshua is a well-known figure in the Old Testament and the New, but is he a priest? In the following paragraphs, I will answer that question and show a number of reasons for understanding Joshua as priest.

Like Moses before him and Jesus after him, Joshua demonstrates his priesthood through his covenant mediation, his teaching, his intercession before God, his purification of the land, and more. Indeed, it is fair to say that all the leading figures in Israel’s history are priests, either by explicit reference or by the merit of their actions. Indeed, these priestly actions are also what reveal Christ’s priesthood in the Gospels. And thus, it is worth our time to see how Joshua’s priesthood foreshadows his greater namesake.

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“The Court of the Sheep”: A Temple Reading of John 10

herd of sheep on grassland

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
— John 10:1 —

In John 16:25, Jesus says to his disciples, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech [paroimia]. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech [paroimia] but will tell you plainly about the Father.” In that context, Jesus was speaking of his going away and the resulting sorrow his disciples would experience (John 16:16–24). In this exchange, Jesus’s disciples did not understand what he was saying (v. 18), and so verse 25 is a pivot in the conversation.

Starting here, Jesus begins to explain what his going away means—soon he is going to leave the world and return to the Father. It is unlikely, in that moment, that the disciples understood how this departure (his exodus) would take place (by means of a cross, resurrection, and ascension), but they say in v. 29, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech.”

Importantly, this word for “figure of speech” is used only one other time in John’s Gospel. In John 10:6, John narrates and says, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Structurally, John 10:1–21 works very similarly to John 16:16–33. Jesus says something figuratively, i.e., in a figure of speech, which his audience does not understand (compare John 10:6 and John 16:18). Then, after acknowledging the confusion, Jesus speaks again more plainly. In John 16, the focus is on Jesus’s coming departure. In John 10, the focus is similar, as Jesus describes the way he will lead his sheep out of something.

But what is that something?

In John 10:3, Jesus speaks of an unidentified shepherd, “To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” In these five verses, the place from which the sheep are led out is the “sheepfold.” As verse 1–2 indicate, the thief enters the sheepfold falsely (v. 1), but the true shepherd enters the sheepfold by means of the door (v. 2). This is the contrast that Jesus sets up in figure of speech, and it is repeated in verse 4–5, when he explains how sheep follow the true shepherd (v. 4) but not the stranger (v. 5). As John notes, this figure of speech is lost on Jesus audience. Continue reading

The Crack in the Cosmos: Letting the Light of John 8:12–59 Expose the Divide in Humanity

brown and green grass field during sunset

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him,
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
— John 8:31–32 —

 I don’t know about you, but when I read lengthy dialogues in Scripture, especially in the Gospels, I find them hard to follow until I have a sense of structure of the argument. In John 8, this has been especially true. After Jesus announces that he is the light of the world (v. 12), his opponents (Pharisees in v. 13 and Jews in vv. 22, 31, 48, 52, 57) object, question, and reject his statements. Yet, this massive disputation is a jumble of back and forth, until you begin to see the order of the court.

As many commentators have observed, John’s Gospel has many elements of a trial in it. And if the whole book is a court case written to show that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31), it should not surprise us to find witnesses, evidence, and other elements of a law court. Indeed, that is how I take John 8:12–59, and in the outline included here, I offer a court case in two parallel parts.

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From this outline, let’s consider a couple things.

The Legal Brief in John 8

First, there is, in John 8:12–30, two arguments that run in parallel. This parallel is found in the order of the speech and the shape of the argumentation. Compare verses 12–19 and 20–27. In these two sections, we find Jesus making an opening statement in each. Remarkably these statements should be read together, and give us a sense of what the first trial is addressing. In verse 12, Jesus announces that he is the light coming into the world, and in verse 20 he says that he (the Light of the World) will be departing. Commiserate with so much in John, this trial is about Jesus and the light he brings.

Importantly, Jesus’s statement are met with hostile unbelief, expressed in two objections—one long, one short. This is how the trial proceeds until, in verses 28–30, Jesus points to his coming cross, when he will be lifted up. As verse 30 indicates, many believed in him, even though moments earlier (v. 27), they didn’t understand. So clearly, this faith lacks understanding, which Jesus will proceed to show as false.

Stopping here in the middle of the chapter, notice how this response of faith is the turning point of the chapter. Quite possibly, the faith of his hearers is based upon the hope that Jesus “lifting up” would be an exaltation to glory, which they might enjoy too. What Jesus has in mind with respect to his lifting up, however, is his coming crucifixion. But these disciples do not understand that (v. 27), they simply believe in Jesus for other purposes. This is a warning to us today and to any who believe in Jesus for their own reasons, not his.

In the context of John, we will see that the people of Israel were seekers of glory, and it seems Jesus’s words of lifting up could have invited such a misplaced faith. Accordingly, this is where the next section begins, as it moves to reveal the darkness of Jesus questioners. Like before, the second section has another mirrored debate, a legal dispute in two parts.

Verses 31–32 begins with another opening statement, but this time Jesus’s statement covers the two parts of the trial. As to the content of his statement, Jesus tells his would-be followers how they prove themselves them true. If they remain in his word, they will have life eternal, but if they refuse him and his words, they are false, darkened, and spiritually dead. Tragically, this is what the chapter proves.

Let’s following the argument in order. First, in vv. 31–47, the Jews ask three questions, to which Jesus responds three times. And in that legal debate, Jesus splits the difference between biological seeds of Abraham (which these Jews are) from spiritual heirs of Abraham (which these Jews are not). The result of this distinction is Jesus’s famous and forceful declaration that these “believers” are actually children of the devil. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (v. 44a).

Next, these devilish sons of Abraham accuse Jesus of demonic activity and Samaritan origins (v. 48), even as they reject his self-identification with Abraham. Again, this legal debate turns on three questions, followed by three responses from Jesus. Ironically, once identified with the devil, these interlocuters do the work of the accuser, questioning Jesus, his identity, and his eternity (i.e., his ancient knowledge of Abraham). But in context, all they do by questioning Jesus is to show their own spiritual ignorance and lifeless religion.

Consequently, when they pick up stones to throw at Jesus, a symbol that the trial has moved from deliberation to execution, John reveals that these accusers of Jesus are the ones who stand condemned by God. They do not know God and this is evident in the fact that they cannot recognize God’s Son. Accordingly, the chapter closes not with a guilty verdict for Jesus, but a guilty verdict for his legal opponents.

All in all, John uses a tight literary structure to lead the reader to see what he is doing. And more, he reveals who Jesus is by contrasting him with those who accuse him. Jesus is the light of the world who will be extinguished on the cross, so that in the light of his resurrection, all who truly believe in him will be saved. Yet, such faith does not come from the selfish will of men who want to glorify themselves by Jesus. Saving faith comes to those who are truly heirs of Abraham, sheep who hear Jesus voice, and children born of God.

John 8 and the Crack in the Cosmos

The division between biological seeds and spiritual heirs is a division, a crack in the cosmos, that ranges across the whole of humanity. And in John, this spiritual division between two kinds of people is seen by paying attention to the trial. In questioning and condemning Jesus, the Jewish leaders show themselves to be men of darkness. By contrast, those who abide in the words of Christ will walk in the light, as he is in the light, because God gives light to those who are children of light.

Again, this spiritual division is what we face in every conflict—whether familial, ecclesial, societal, legal, or political. As Jesus teaches, there are two kinds of people in the world. And as John 8, the sides are determined by God and detected by how one responds to the Son. Ultimately, John 8 reveals much about who Jesus is, but it also reveals much about who we are.

With that realization in mind, let us seek God’s mercy and pray for his light to lead us to Christ. Jesus is the light of the world, and if you rejoice in his light, he will reveal to you his truth, and his truth alone will set you free. Just as he says in John 8:31–32.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

Three Literary Mountains: Seeing the Chiastic Structures of John 7

adventure alpine background black and white

When I preached through the Five Books of the Psalms a few years ago, I began to see chiasms as “literary mountains” (see below). Which is to say, just as mountains in the Bible serve as meeting places with God, so chiastic structures (literary mountains) do the same. Because chiasms put stress on the high point of the passage, we should seek to understand how the author builds his argument and his artistry around that centerpiece. And what results is a staircase that moves up the literary mountain and back down again.Book 1

In John’s Gospel, there are more than a few chiastic structures. John 1:1–18 is carefully constructed as a chiasm. So is John 2–4 and John 5–11. And because the Gospel shows multiple chiasms, it validates our search to see further literary structures as chiastic (A-B-A). In fact, John 7 has three of these literary mountains—one small (John 7:1–9), one large (John 7:10–36), and one medium in size (John 7:37–52).

Without getting into all the interpretive details of all that follows, I offer the following literary structure. Each begin with the “feast of booths” as the gateway to each “mountain.” Then each put in the center of the chiasm, i.e., the high point of the mountain, the divide that stands in the crowd because of Jesus.

By looking at these these three chiasms together, it helps us get a sense for how to read the whole chapter, and to understand what the main point is—namely, that Jesus has come to fulfill the Feast of Booths, which will cause a divide between those who are enslaved to the shadow (i.e., the Law) and those who will believe in the substance (Christ, to which the Law points).

Tell me what you think? Does this reading match the text, as you see it? Or would you make adjustments? Continue reading

The Sharp Edges of God’s Sovereign Salvation: 9 Truths about the Doctrine of Election

black and white silhouette of christ the redeemer

A number of years ago, I preached a sermon Titus 1:1. In that passage, Paul says, he is “an apostle Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth.” In that sermon it would be impossible and unfaithful to ignore the word “elect” (eklekton) and the way in which Paul labored for the faith of the elect.

And yet, despite the clear presence of the word in the text and its relationship to faith, truth, and Paul’s gospel ministry, my exposition initiated a cascade of events that resulted in my eventual resignation from my pastoral office. Such is the antagonism against the doctrine of election, which has often been flown under the banner of Calvinism.

In more recent days, I preached a series of messages from John 6, a passage that also touches the doctrine of election. And in these messages, preached in a church where the doctrines of grace are not eschewed but embraced, I was able to show from Scripture what Jesus says about God’s sovereignty in salvation.

In what follows, I want to bullet point some of the key truths uncovered in John 6 with respect to the doctrine of election. In many other articles, I have written how evangelism and election relate, what Scripture says about election, and what hyper-Calvinism really is. In this article, however, I want to stick to Jesus’s words in John 6—a passage where our Lord teaches about the ways God brings salvation to his elect, while passing over others.

Admittedly, this passage is a hard saying (v. 60) and election is a hard doctrine, but it is a true doctrine and one worth pondering. So, with the goal of understanding what Jesus says in John 6, let me offer nine truths about the doctrine of election.

Nine Truths about the Doctrine of Election

Before getting into the text, here is an outline of the nine points. Because what follows is rather long, you might consider picking which point is most interesting (or troubling) and starting there.

  1. Election depends on the God who selects, not mankind who seeks.
  2. Election is ordained in eternity and revealed in time.
  3. Election in time mirrors God’s election in eternity.
  4. God’s election results in faith, not the reverse.
  5. Election does not deny the universal offer of Christ; it secures a positive response.
  6. Election depends on the will of God, not the will of man.
  7. The election of God’s people ensures that he will bring the gospel to them.
  8. Election directs Jesus’s ministry, and ours.
  9. Election is for the glory of God, not the glory of man.

Continue reading

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

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Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —

These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.

With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.

Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated! Continue reading

God’s Judgment in John’s Gospel: How a Careful Reading of John 6 Reveals the Wisdom of God’s Judgment

two brown and black goats

5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” 6 The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.

— Psalm 12:5–6 —

In John 6, we have series of questions and answers that proceed from ostensible faith to certain unbelief. Put differently, those who first sought Jesus, because they ate of his bread, come to find out that hardened against God as they they have no appetite for Christ—only a hunger for what he might give them!

Meanwhile, as Jesus explains how anyone may come to him, we learn a great deal about Jesus and the wise judgments of God. Indeed, as John writes up the events taking place around the Sea of Galilee and then in synagogue at Capernaum, John 6 shows us more clearly who Jesus is and how the Word of God made flesh fulfills every portion of God’s Word.

In what follows, I want to begin with some basic observations on the text, and then move to some more in-depth discussions about intra-biblical allusions (i.e., how John may use the Old Testament), with some final conclusions about the way Jesus’s words prove the purity of God’s judgments. In the end, this will show us again how wise God is and why, in a passage that esteems the doctrine of unconditional election we can see the goodness God’s judgment upon those who are not elect.

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Winsomeness, Wisdom, and the Way of Jesus: A Few Reflections on Christ and Culture from John 6

IMG_6015Winsome win(t)-səmgenerally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence; cheerful, lighthearted.

In the last few weeks, the word winsome has generated lots of discussion as various Christians have considered various ways the church has or has not properly engaged culture.

This all started with Aaron Renn’s article outlining evangelicalism into positive, neutral, and negative worlds. It continued with James Wood’s two posts on his critical appreciation for Tim Keller. And these two articles set off a firestorm of other articles variously critical of Wood. In all of this kerfuffle, I have found Kevin DeYoung’s non-specific and biblical response and Doug Wilson’s earlier appraisal of Renn’s article most helpful. (If you read any of these articles, start with DeYoung’s.)

For my contribution, I simply want to point to the sermon I preached Sunday, which engaged with the word winsome. Admittedly, I overshot many in my congregation in addressing the problems of winsomeness—a good reminder that what happens online does not best capture what happens in real life. As I learned Sunday night, more than a few members of our community group had to look up the word. Clearly, and thankfully(!), they are not attuned to the latest tirade on Twitter. Continue reading