Baptism, Salvation

Writing on the Wrightsaid e-mail list, James Jordan addresses several topics and interacts with Wright a bit:

1. “Baptism saves.” But when someone affirms or denies this, it matters what he thinks “salvation” is, and whether a person can lose it. Consider the OT usage. The word yasha, found in the name Joshua and Jesus, does not imply a change of heart, but a transfer of a person from an old world into a new world. That’s just what Joshua did. I myself would say that baptism transfers a child — any child baptized — out of the old world of Egypt into the new world of the New Creation. Whether he will grow up and remain there is another question. But whether he does or not, he has objectively been given this gift from God, sovereignly bestowed on him by God via the church and because of who his parents are. If he grows up and rebels, that is also in the sovereign plan of God.

2. I would view baptism as God’s sovereign gift and call, which calls for us to respond in faith. And that faith is not a one-time acceptance, but is daily. Other Presbyterians seem to think that baptism is a sign of a person’s own personal faith, and is given to infants as a kind of exception. Well, these aren’t the same theologies of infant baptism. I imagine Wright thinks more along the former lines than the latter.

3. Can a person lose this salvation? Clearly, yes, in the sovereign plan of God. The parables of the sower and of the unrighteous steward who had his debts forgiven and then put back on him, make this clear. So does the book of Hebrews. But it’s all predestined.

4. Some would say that baptism bestows these “outward” privileges on all, but also bestows (or eventually is connected to the bestowal, usually) of “heart regeneration.” This raises questions that people on this list might answer differently, as might Wright. For one, what does “regeneration” in the Bible mean? It seems to have to do with the renewal of the world, not with the heart of individuals.

But one can come at this another way also. One can say (as I would) that all people baptized receive the same thing/s, but that some are elected to persevere in faith while others are not. Thus, the question is not “who gets what at the beginning” but “who is predestined to persevere to the end.” Both of these are fully Reformed and predestinarian, but specific theologians differ over them. Well, I don’t know what Wright would say, but when we read him, we need to be aware that there is more than one answer he might give to the question, and still be fully Reformed.

5. Another way of getting at this question is to ask WHY one person perseveres and another does not? One approach would be to say that the person who perseveres is the person who has a “truly changed heart,” and that’s why he endures to the end. Another approach would be to say that the person who perseveres is the person with whom the Spirit continues to wrestle until the end — that is, the Spirit is not grieved and quenched and does not depart, as He did from Saul and as David feared He might from him. This approach deals with the whole person, and leaves the “heart” to God. IMO, the second answer is Reformed, since it has to do with the FAITHful or unFAITHful personal relationship of the person with God, while the “heart” oriented answer is much more Medieval and Roman Catholic. If my perseverance is based on something IN ME, even if it is something God gave me, it is still IN ME. I would submit that Reformation theology grounds perseverance in God’s continuing work with me, not in anything in me.

I’m not saying that God does not change hearts. But man deals with the outward appearance and only God judges the heart. We can speculate about who has a changed heart and who does not, but such speculations remain nothing but speculations in the ionosphere. And it is spiritually dangerous to speak in such a way as to encourage people to inspect their own hearts. “Know thyself” is Socratic and demonic. We CANNOT know ourselves, and must trust in God to know us. We must accept what He says about us. We can judge ourselves in particular matters, but the heart is hidden from us. Our “heart experiences” are untrustworthy. We must trust God and His Word.

I’ve brought up this point because how we think about perseverance has to do with how we think about faith and “regeneration,” which has to do with what we say baptism does or does not confer. These matters are intertwined. One can be within the “Reformed” camp and take what I think to be the wrong approach, inspecting hearts, speculating about who is really “regenerate” and who is not, etc. How we think about these things is going to matter when we read someone like Wright, who is constantly dealing with ecclesiology (baptism; who is a Christian?; etc.) and with justification.

6. Justification. Is justification something that God does AFTER we have accepted His gift by faith? Or is justification something that God does objectively, which we must receive by faith? The former thinks of faith much more as a one-time acceptance. The latter would see faith as something to be exercised daily.

Or to put it another way, consider the idea that God publicly and openly declares a person justified when that person is baptized. Now that person must accept this declaration, and live in terms of it, living by faith. Faith RESPONDS to God’s gracious word, which usually comes to people in baptism (though in missionary situations, of course, sometimes before they are baptized). From this standpoint, justification is one of the things God sovereignly gives at baptism, which a person must receive. He may grow up and reject God’s sovereign and gracious justification, and instead become a person who seeks to justify himself. Like the steward whose debts were remitted, and then put back upon him, such a man will lose his justification. God will take it back.

To put it a third way: Is justification ultimately based on my faith? This is the Arminian version of “justification by faith.” I exercise faith, and God sees it, and He justifies me because of it. But a lot of Reformed people think this way also. For them, this is what God predestinated to happen. But obviously, this is not the only way Reformed people can think about justification. Reformed people can, and many have and do, think of justification as a sovereign objective declaration concerning a person, to which that person is then to respond in faith over and over, accepting God’s free gift repeatedly.

The question here is what does Wright think. I don’t know; I haven’t written a dissertation trying to go through all his writings tofind out. I have hoped to show that he can fall out on various sides of these issues and still be thoroughly Reformational and Calvinistic in his thinking. And that was my only purpose in writing this.

And of course, the question behind what does Wright think, is what does the Bible say. Where is Wright right, and where is he wrong?

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