Engaging With 1689 (1)

To the degree our Baptist friends assert that the Abrahamic covenant was a covenant of works, they have sharply departed from the theology of Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and Beza.

There are approximately 60 million North American evangelicals—by contrast there are probably no more than about 500,000 confessionally Reformed Christians in North America. Virtually all of those evangelicals either assume or consciously confess some version of a Baptist account of redemptive history and some version of a Baptist view of the church and sacraments. Because of the number of variations inherent in any large group any taxonomy would be impossible in a short series of essays.

 

Introduction
Recently I had opportunity to engage in a friendly dialogue with some Baptist scholars over the merits of the project proposed in Recovering the Reformed Confession. That project is, as they say, wending through the publication process. Because of space limitations I was unable to do a couple of things, namely, to engage more fully with some of the texts and approaches to Baptist covenant theology (as distinct from Reformed covenant theology). There are approximately 60 million North American evangelicals—by contrast there are probably no more than about 500,000 confessionally Reformed Christians in North America. Virtually all of those evangelicals either assume or consciously confess some version of a Baptist account of redemptive history and some version of a Baptist view of the church and sacraments. Because of the number of variations inherent in any large group any taxonomy would be impossible in a short series of essays. For the sake of the discussion let us say that there are three major views to be engaged, the Generic Evangelical Baptist (GEB) approach, the Older Predestinarian Baptist view (OPB), and the Particular Baptist (PB) view.

The GEB view does not have a highly detailed view of the biblical covenants, if it has a view of them at all. Tom Ascol writes of an “outright rejection of covenantalism by some Baptists.” It thinks of the promises to Abraham as earthly, not spiritual. For most under the influence of the GEB, the great distinction is between the Old Testament and the New. If there is a text that drives their reading of redemptive history it is probably Jeremiah 31:31–33. In this view it is assumed that Jeremiah’s contrast is between the entire OT and the NT. Some in this approach affirm predestination (e.g., the so-called Young, Restless, and Reformed movement) but they do not identify particularly with the Second London [Baptist] Confession of 1689 or other such confessional documents or traditions. Most, however, under this heading reject a predestinarian theology.

In the OPB view, there is more attention to the OT covenants. In this approach, represented by the older generation (post-World War II) “Reformed Baptists” (a designation that, as far as I can tell, only became widely used post-WWII) learned their “Reformed” theology from Presbyterian theologians and institutions and saw themselves as one with them on most things. They affirm the 1689 but arguably read it through the lens of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Thus, their approach to Abraham and the other OT covenants sounds very much like that of their Presbyterian and Reformed fellows. The great difference seemed to be their understanding of the highly eschatological nature of the New Covenant, which distinguished it from the OT, and which precludes the administration to infants of the sign of admission to the New Covenant. They too tended to read Jeremiah 31 in roughly the same way as the GEBs.

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