I’ve been reflecting quite a bit lately on different features of the doctrine of the church and would like to hear some thoughts on Bavinck’s ten propositions concerning ‘the validity of infant baptism’.  As someone reared in a Roman Catholic family but converted in a Baptist setting, I’ve been intrigued for some time by the paedobaptist teaching of the Reformed, whose tradition I find salutary with regard to so many areas of theological enquiry.  Here are Bavinck’s big ten in summary (see Reformed Dogmatics 4:525-32):

1)  At the inception of the church it was natural for baptism to concern primarily adult converts and this is what we see in the New Testament.  However, because valid inferences as well as explicit statements of biblical teaching are binding for the church, the legitimacy of infant baptism doesn’t depend on it being explicitly narrated or commanded in the NT.

2)  Baptism is the new covenant counterpart to circumcision, which was, of course, granted to the infants of Abraham’s family in the Old Testament.  Baptism and circumcision are of the same essence, but the former exceeds the latter in grace, not least because it is given to both male and female.

3)  Covenant and election are two distinct categories and the former (in which sphere the sacraments are administered) concerns persons in their historical existence in communion with one another.  In the OT, children are ‘regarded in connection with [parents]‘ and God ‘established a communion of parents and children in grace and blessing’.  ‘While grace is not automatically inherited, as a rule it is bestowed along the line of generations.’

4)  In the NT, children are still regarded as participants in the covenant and this is evidenced as Jews in the Gospels reject Jesus and in response Jesus calls into question their status as God’s people but still in kindness regards Jewish children as ‘children of the covenant’.

5)  The apostolic ministry proceeds along the same lines, with the church taking the place of Israel and households as organic wholes in the book of Acts converting to Christ and sharing in common blessing (cf. 1 Cor. 7:14).  ‘Scripture knows nothing of a neutral upbringing that seeks to have the children make a completely free and independent choice at a more advanced age.’

Continue reading

Baptism and Christian Identity: Ecclesial Pedagogy and John Calvin

If you recall (I know it has been a while) that our last post on Gordon Mikoski’s volume Baptism and Christian Identity we looked at Gregory of Nyssa. Now we turn our attention to John Calvin. Mikoski offers justification for his rather odd pairing:

Gregory of Nyssa and John Calvin shared enough similarities on the matter under investigation that meaningful comparison is both possible and useful in service to developing overtures to a contemporary trinitarian practical theology of formation. Both were servants of the church and dedicated their lives to the defense and promotion of the Christian faith…More to the point, both Gregory of Nyssa and Calvin held together the sacrament of baptism, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the practices of ecclesial pedagogy in dynamic interplay” (132).

Calvin’s development of Baptism, Mikoski argues, arose out of the Roman liturgical “subfamily in the early Western church.” This liturgy included: Pre-Baptismal Rites (anointing and renunciation); Baptism Proper; and Post-Baptism Rites (White garment, anointing, imposition of hands and prayer by bishop, anointing of forehead by bishop, and eucharist). Continue reading

Baptism and Christian Identity: Part 4

Mikoski engages Gregory of Nyssa in a chapter entitled: “Baptism, Trinity, and Ecclesial Pedagogy in the Work of Gregory of Nyssa.” Mikoski claims that while Gregory did not offer any unique contributions to the liturgical framework of his time and place, “His unique contributions to the complex rites of Christian initiation came in the form of insightful interpretations of the meaning of baptism” (83). Mikoski believes that his understanding of baptism contributed to his development of trinitarian doctrine.

First, Mikoski compares the Eastern and Western baptismal rites. For the East, there was a renunciation (facing West) and then an act of adherence (facing East), followed by a pre-baptismal anointing, first by the minister on the forehead and then by someone else to the whole body. The baptism was accompanied by the form, “I baptize you in the name…” The Western rite had a renunciation, followed by the baptism accompanied by “triple interrogation of the faith,” but no baptism form. This was followed by a post-baptism ceremony of prayer for the Holy Spirit, anointing of forehead and imposition of the hands (84). Mikoski offers interpretation: Continue reading

Baptism and Catechesis

Ben Myers recently posts on baptism and ordination with some helpful thoughts, and so I have decided to post some remarks from Gregory of Nyssa on baptism as well. The following passage is from his Catechetical Oration, but I’m quoting from Mikoski’s volume that I am reviewing here on page 119:

If the washing is applied to the body, while the soul does not wash away the stains of its passions, but the life after initiation is of the same character as the uninitiated life, even though it is a bold thing to say, yet I will say it and not draw back, in such cases the water is water, and the gift of the Holy Spirit nowhere appears in what takes place, whenever not only the deformity of anger dishonours the Divine image, or the passion of covetousness, and the uncontrolled and unseemly thought, and pride, envy, conceit, but also when a man retains in his possession the gains made by injustice, and the woman he has made his own by adultery continues to minister to his pleasures even after baptism. Continue reading

Baptism and Christian Identity: Part 3

Mikoski starts this next chapter with a quote that is worth noting here in light of some of the comments from previous posts. The quote is taken from Dykstra and Bass’ article, “A Theological Understanding of Christian Practices.” “At its heart baptism is not so much a distinct practice as it is the liturgical summation of all the Christian practices…Here all the practices are present in crystalline form – forgiveness and healing, singing and testimony, sabbath-keeping and community shaping, and all the others. Unlike each particular practice, baptism does not address a specific need, instead, it ritually sketches the contours of a whole new life, within which all human needs can be perceived in a different way.” At the heart of Mikoski’s project is to take this understanding of baptism and run it through the theological and practical mechanisms of trinitarian thought and educational theory.

The belief that the Trinity functions as a practical reality for theology is ubiquitous in theology today, but this is not necessarily the case in Christian education. Continue reading

Baptism and Christian Identity: Part 2

Moving ahead in our look of Mikoski’s volume, we now address the “trinitarian structure” of baptism. Mikoski initially focuses on the language used in the liturgy noting the prominence of the Trinity: “What makes the rite a distinctively Christian washing has to do with the linkage of the act of washing and the narrative of the economy of the Triune God’s dealings with humanity across the sweep of history” (28). Mikoski continues:

When set in the context of the proclamation and prayers of the church to the Triune God, the water becomes an instrument of Triune transformation in the baptizand’s life. By the work of the Holy Spirit and through the will of the Father, baptized persons are united with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. The gathered community prays with the presiding pastor that through this liturgical event the Holy Spirit will bring the baptizand to rebirth into a life of faithful discipleship in relation to Jesus Christ and to the glory of the Father. In some fashion or another, the water ceremony seeks to fund and shape the many patterns of everyday ritualizations that make up Christian daily life” (31).

There seems to be a line Mikoski jumps back and forth over, which is the ordering of God and man’s action in relation to baptism. The emphasis starts on God’s action by focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit and the will of the Father, but then seems to come at it from another angle, claiming that it is through this liturgical event that the Holy Spirit works. Continue reading

Baptism and Christian Identity

I want to take a look at Gordon S. Mikoski’s new volume, Baptism and Christian IdentityBaptism and Christian Identity: Teaching in the Triune Name (Eerdmans, 2009). This is another work in practical theology which seeks to breath fresh life in the conversation concerning practices which is either dying or else never truly came to life. This work, on the other hand, has promise. There is no doubt from the get-go that this is a work of practical theology. The author talks about his denominationally oriented point of view, the importance of looking at concrete situations and then engages in a detailed analysis of his church’s practice of baptism. In other words, not only will this volume look at Gregory of Nyssa and Calvin, nor will it simply look at theology and Christian education, though it does both. This volume will look at the theological and practical issues against the backdrop of very real conrete situations and help to ask real questions about how our theology should substantialize.

Mikoski does not choose baptism at random, as if it were simply one of many possible practices to choose from. Continue reading

Eucharistic Presence: A Proposal

Continuing my look at Hunsinger’s volume The Eucharist and Ecumenism, I turn now to consider his proposal for an ecumenical understanding of the real presence in the consecrated elements. Doing so will entail several concessions:

  • First, there is not a real presence of Christ in the elements at the expense of the local presence of Christ bodily in heaven;
  • Second, there is not a localized presence of Christ’s body in heaven which could prohibit its real presence in the eucharist (sorry to all of the baptists out there, not to mention the Pentecostals!).

Building on this, Hunsinger suggests, “The idea of transelementation, as represented by Vermigli, Bucer, and Cranmer (and based on patristic sources), would today allow the Reformed churches to maintain their historic concern for Christ’s bodily integrity while moving closer to the high sacramental traditions on real presence” (51-52), which would allow for greater flexibility to move towards Hunsinger’s proposal of an ecumenical theology of eucharist. Continue reading

Eucharist: Real Presence

Beginning his discussion of real presence, Hunsinger turns to Aquinas.

Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas, in Hunsinger’s mind, was able to satisfy what he sees are the two major conditions for a proposal that could resolve eucharistic conflicts: “He was able to hold together, convincingly, a robust definition of ‘real presence’ with an equally robust definition of ‘local presence’” (23). Aquinas does this, Hunsinger argues, by speaking of Christ joining himself to us through the sacrament, as well as keeping distinct the idea of Christ’s bodily location. Quoting Aquinas:

The body of Christ is not in this sacrament in the way a body is located in a place. The dimensions of a body in a place corresponds with the dimensions of the place that contains it. Christ’s body is here in a special way that is proper to this sacrament” (24, quoting ST 3.75.1)

Summarizing Aquinas’ view, Hunsinger suggests, “Real presence…meant nothing less than substantial presence – the actual presence of Christ’s body, though in a spiritual mode without dimensions” (24). This, of course, is precisely what Calvin could not stand for. Continue reading


In this post, I will begin reviewing George Hunsinger’s book The Eucharist and EcumenismThe Eucharist and Ecumenism by Cambridge University Press (ISBN:978-0-521-89486-9). This is one of the latest volumes in Cambridge’s “Current Issues In Theology” series, and is a welcome addition to an already well established set of volumes. It is no secret that the Eucharst and sacramental theology in general is a major stumbling block to ecumenical discussions, and Hunsinger addresses what he sees as the central issues hindering progress in this area.

Hunsinger begins his work by drawing demarcations between three types of theology: First, what he calls “enclave theology,” which is a theology that seeks to function solely within a single tradition for the purpose of defeating other traditions. Enclave theology, therefore, is polemical theology. Second, there is ecumenical theology. Ecumenical theology presupposes that every theological tradition brings something to the table even if it is difficult to discern what that exactly is. Instead of defeating and attacking these other traditions, ecumenical theology seeks to learn from them. Thirdly is modern academic theology, which lacks allegiance to confessional norms and utilizes moderist critical norms as the overriding model of engagement with the text, theology and the church. Hunsinger claims that these are not theological containers as much as “categories of discernment by which trends and tendencies in any body of work can be picked out” (6).

In developing an ecumenical theology of Eucharist, Hunsinger provides seven guidelines that should inform any ecumenical theology:

  1. Church-dividing views should be abandoned, especially in the form of false contrasts.
  2. No tradition, including one’s own, should be asked to compromise on essentials.
  3. Where possible, misunderstandings from the past should be identified and eliminated.
  4. Real differences should not be glossed over by resorting to ambiguity; they will only come back to hant theology and church.
  5. The range of acceptable diversity should be expanded as fully as possible within the bounds of fundamental unity.
  6. All steps toward visible unity should be taken which can be taken without theological compromise.
  7. No one church should be expected to capitulate to another or be swallowed up into it. (9-10)

What do we think about these? What should inform the “essentials” of one’s theological background?

Trinitarian Theology and the Sacraments

Gordon T. Smith, whose edited volume on eucharist was reviewed several months back, authors a chapter in IVP’s volume Trinitarian Theology for the Churchentitled: “The Sacraments and the Embodiment of Our Trinitarian Faith.” Smith bemoans the neglect by many to engage in the broader ecumenical discussion concerning the sacraments, suggesting that this neglect has fostered a “christomonism” rather that a christocentric trinitarianism, which highlights the pneumatological deficit among many traditions and churches.

In mapping the divergent views, Smith suggests two starting assumptions which must be made: first, that the sacraments are the acts of the church rather than merely individual, interior and expressive events; and second, God is sovereign and is not constrained by the sacraments. Building upon these admissions, Smith suggests a trinitarian participation through eucharist: “we give thanks to the Father-Creator (this is a Eucharist), we do this in remembrance of Christ (anamnesis) as we invoke the presence of the Spirit (epiklesis). And the unity of this structure demonstrates that these three are one.” Furthermore: Continue reading