Saturday, September 29, 2007

Outward Sign, Inward Reality--Part Three

Several months ago, I wrote two posts about the connection of the outward signs of circumcision and baptism to their respective inward realities: circumcision of the heart and baptism of the Spirit. You can read those posts here: Part 1 and Part 2.

In the first post, I discussed the Bible does not speak of circumcision and baptism as ends in themselves, but as signs and seals that point to inward spiritual realities; thus, there is an important link between between the sacraments and regeneration. In the second post, I wrote about the fact that there is not a causal relationship between the outward signs and the inward realities--that is, just as being physically circumcised by itself did not save anyone, neither does water baptism by itself save anyone. So, one big question remains: How, then, do the outward signs correspond to the inward realities?

Let me begin this issue by referring to one of John Piper's arguments against infant baptism. In fact, in the sermon that he discusses these things, he notes that this particular argument has become one of the most important reasons that he is still a Baptist. He argues:

When the New Testament church debated in Acts 15 whether circumcision should still be required of believers as part of becoming a Christian, it is astonishing that not once in that entire debate did anyone say anything about baptism standing in the place of circumcision. If baptism is the simple replacement of circumcision as a sign of the new covenant, and thus valid for children as well as for adults, as circumcision was, surely this would have been the time to develop the argument and so show that circumcision was no longer necessary. But it is not even mentioned.
Now, I should first note that Piper is one of my heroes, and I think that he is one of the most godly men living. His unbridled passion for Jesus Christ humbles and encourages me every time I hear him speak or read something that he wrote. Still, he and I disagree about the nature of baptism. So, allow me to respectfully disagree with the reasoning behind this argument.

I would say that the reason the Jerusalem Council did not bring up baptism as "the simple replacement of circumcision" is that to do so would have given the completely wrong impression to those who believed that a person must become Jewish first, and then a Christian, in order to be saved. The big theological problem behind this dispute was that many Jewish converts to Christianity were understanding their salvation as being rooted in Jewish identity (especially in regard to their being circumcised) and merely continued by Christ. Paul argued vehemently against this reasoning, declaring that Christ is not only the capstone of a Jew's salvation for being Jewish, but the foundation and the capstone (and everything in between) for salvation on the basis of faith.

So, to tell these confused Jewish Christians that baptism was "the simple replacement of circumcision" would have been extremely misleading. It would have confirmed their presuppositions that salvation comes on the basis of being Jewish (with Christ as the capstone of Jewishness), and it would have simply given them a different means of being Jewish--baptism instead of circumcision. Instead, the Jerusalem Council had to proclaim that Jesus Christ alone is the ground of salvation.

(By the way, Piper's whole sermon from which I am quoting is intended to demonstrate that there is not a definite link between circumcision and baptism. I believe that there is, and I have discussed this elsewhere, but I cannot spend too much time defending that point now. I already have enough to say.)

So, why do I bring this up when I said that I intended to write about what baptism actually does do? Mainly, I want my terms to be clear in how I describe the sacraments: Christ alone saves, so the sacraments cannot be more than the means through which Christ saves, rather than the basis of salvation.

This is the thrust of Paul's argument in Romans 4: Abraham was counted righteous by faith before he had received circumcision, partially to show that salvation comes by faith alone, and partially to "make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised." (Rom 4:11-12) Abraham's salvation by faith became the example of how all who followed him would be saved.

So, what role is left for the sacraments to play in salvation? Since this post has already become quite lengthy (this perhaps should have been two posts), I will suggest only one idea about how to think about the relationship of the baptism to the Christian's salvation: I think that it would be helpful to think of baptism as a seed planted in our hearts, along the lines of Jesus' parable of the sower.

A seed by itself is nothing, and until the seed can find a home in the rich soil of faith (rather than being snatched up or falling on rocky or weedy soil), it cannot produce any fruit. But, because God actually makes use of the outward sign of our baptism in order to cause the inward reality to blossom, baptism is extremely important. I simply think that there is too strong of a link in Scripture between water baptism and Spirit baptism to argue that water baptism is merely symbolic of salvation, but I think that the Scripture too clearly delineates between the two for there to be a absolute causal link. In my judgment, using the metaphor of a seed is a very helpful way to steer clear of these two extremes.

Now, a couple of clarifications for thinking about this metaphor. First, God does not need a seed to cause something to grow. Is God not able to raise up children of Abraham from mere stones? (Matt. 3:9) God normally uses a seed, but in certain cases he can certainly save someone without their being baptized. Salvation is found in Christ alone, even if God generally uses baptism as a means of communicating that salvation.

Second, baptism is often not the first seed planted in someone's life. I grew up in a Christian family, but I was not baptized as an infant. Furthermore, there are plenty of believers who did not even grow up in Christian families. Therefore, the first seed sowed in such lives was the word of God. (Presbyterians understand the grace communicated through the sacraments as being the same grace communicated through the word.) In that case, where the word of God was the seed planted, baptism would not be a second kind of seed, but would be the watering (pardon the pun!) on the seed. In cases where children of believers are indeed baptized after birth, the word that they hear read and preached as they grow up would water their seed of baptism.

In any case, no matter who plants and who waters, "God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Cor 3:6-7). In the end, all glory goes to the Father who chose us, to the Son who died and rose again for us, and to the Spirit who enlivens our souls to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. All glory be to the Triune God!

So, I hope that you find this metaphor helpful because I think that it communicates an important truth: we are not saved by baptism per se, but by Jesus Christ. Still, God's ordaining the ends of salvation does not mean that he did not ordain the means of communicating that salvation, and among those means (e.g., the proclamation of the word) would be the sacrament of baptism.

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Friday, September 21, 2007


A quick link to something I may begin using as a training program to survive grad school:


Thursday, September 20, 2007

When in Rome...

For my Worship Leadership class, we are required to visit two different types of churches (different from each other, and different from our own denomination) and to write papers where we discuss what we saw in the worship services that might be instructive for our own worship. So, a couple of weeks ago, I attended a Sunday evening Catholic mass with a couple who are my friends and members of the church. It was a very interesting assignment, so I published the paper that I wrote, which you can read here.

Also, if you want to read through the liturgy of a Catholic mass, you can see it here.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Why I Don't Post Much

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Recalling the Hope of Two (Very Different) Glories

Nebraska looked fantastic last week against Nevada, winning handily at 52-10. Our offensive line made me reminisce to the days of Tom Osborne's "Pipeline" (a group of beefy linemen who actually came to Hastings one day and autographed some of my Husker paraphernalia...but I digress). I was extremely concerned about our running back situation coming into this season, but I am not too worried about that any more. Actually, our wide receiving corps looked worse than our running backs, dropping perfectly placed passes. Defensively, our team (especially Steve Octavian) looked great, and I think that our defensive line should hold its own better than was expected over the course of this season.

So, I think that we should have a good game today against Wake Forest. I expect us to run fairly well, although nowhere near as successfully as last week, and I don't think that our receivers will drop as many balls this week. I am expecting us to have improved by a couple of notches, and I think that today we will see the unveiling of what most of our season will look like: a very good team, much closer to what we hoped for in Callahan's regime than we have seen to date.

I expect our defense to play hard, and I think that our secondary will step up to play better than they have in the past. Still, I think that Wake Forest's offense will put up a fair number of points. I am highly optimistic, but I don't want to be unrealistic.

My prediction: Nebraska 41, Wake Forest 20.

I have been reading Recalling the Hope of Glory, by Allen P. Ross (my Hebrew professor and my professor in Worship Leadership for this semester), which is a book that attempts to map out a biblical theology of worship. I have heard vastly differing reports on the quality of the book, but I am very much appreciating it, having read through the third chapter.

The title of his book is quite descriptive of the theme of his book: the biblical theology of worship is extremely reminiscent of the paradise of Eden (he points out, for example, numerous textual and thematic links between the design and construction of the temple and the creation of the Garden), but it also anticipates the hope of glory in Jesus Christ. We worship both by looking back at God's act in creation--and in his re-creation of the world in Christ's resurrection--and by looking forward to the glory that awaits us when Christ returns.

This book is the textbook for my Worship Leadership class this semester, so we will be reading it over the course of the next couple of months. As an FYI, Dr. Ross teaches the class not only from the book, but also from a perspective of looking at how different churches over the course of church history have put these worship principles into practice. His goal, Lord-willing, is to write a second volume on worship where he will discuss these issues. From what we have discussed in class so far, I think that second volume will be very helpful as well.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

The Morality of Jephthah

This morning, I wrote a paper for my Ethics class on "The Morality of Jephthah." It was an extremely interesting topic, and the paper didn't turn out too badly, so I thought I would publish it for your voluntary perusal. You can read it here.

It will be important for you to know Aristotle's categories in assessing the morality of an action, so you'll want to read the text I'm referencing in my paper, which is here. You will only need to read pages 6 and 7 to understand what I'm talking about, but the whole chapter is well-worth the read. Enjoy!

Judges 11:29-40:

29Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." 32So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand. 33And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

34Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow." 36And she said to him, "My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites." 37So she said to her father, "Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions." 38So he said, "Go." Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. 39And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

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Hunting Season

I just killed my first cockroach of the year--they are everywhere here in Alabama, and there isn't much anybody can do. I see more cockroaches than flies in this part of the country. This was a pretty big one, being almost two inches long and 3/4 of an inch wide. It was a fast sucker, too, and I had to chase it all the way across my kitchen counter, under the sink, into a drawer, under the sink again, and then onto my floor where I was able to get it with a paper towel.

We'll be cleaning this weekend.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007


Well, since Blogging Season is upon us, I suppose that it's time to begin. I somewhat missed blogging over the summer, but I just never feel that much in the mood when school isn't in session.

So, I'm back now, although I don't know how much time I will have to post anything. This post is largely just to stretch my internet-publishing muscles a bit as well as to record my virtual presence.

The Huskers looked great last Saturday against Nevada, but only time will tell how the might stand up against a real team. I'll try to put up a real prediction before the Wake Forest game begins.

The interesting part of the Husker game was that, when I went to a Buffalo Wild Wings to see the game (it televised regionally, and my region went with a different game), I met two families from Omaha who now live in Birmingham. One of the families was a couple who attend Briarwood Presbyterian, and the husband was a Secret Service officer from Lyndon B. Johnson through the Reagan administration.

It was very interesting to talk to them, and it was incredibly nice to watch Nebraska games with real Husker fans. I have found out that watching games with people who don't particularly care is depressingly lonely--I'd much rather watch the game alone. So, I was very thankful to get to cheer along with fellow travelers.

In other news, I shaved my head.

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