Explorations in Reformed Confessional Theology

Book Reviews, Church History, Theology

A few months ago I read two books published by Reformation Heritage Books in their new series of short works called Explorations in Reformed Confessional Theology. I highly recommend both works and offer only one criticism.

In Defense of the Descent: A Response to Contemporary Critics by Daniel R. Hyde is the first book in the series and addresses the descensus clause (“he descended into hell”) of the Apostles Creed. While the clause has been historically accepted amongst Reformed believers, in recent years it has received much criticism. Hyde traces the history of the clause itself offering 6 views on the clauses’ meaning, and finally offering a defense of the classical reformed understanding. The 6 views outlined by Hyde are:

1. The Punishment View: It means Christ went to hell to suffer more than His suffering upon the cross.

2. The Second Chance View: It means Christ went to hell to preach a second chance to those who died apart from Him.

3. The Pronouncement-of-Triumph to Believers View: It means Christ went to hell and pronounced His victory to those who already believed in Him before their deaths.

4. The Pronouncement-of-Triumph to Satan View: It means Christ went to hell and pronounced His victory to Satan.

5. The Literary Interpretive View: It means Christ was buried.

6. The Symbolic View: It means Christ suffered hell His whole life, especially on the cross.

I was helped tremendously by Hyde’s work and agree with his conclusions, but instead of telling you what those are, I highly recommend reading this little book (it’s only 74 pages).

By Good and Necessary Consequence by Ryan M. McGraw is the second book of the series and deals with systematic theology, and especially the statement of the Westminster Confession of Faith 1:6: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Emphasis added). McGraw provides biblical support for the principle of good and necessary consequence, highlights its importance, and responds to common objections. The essential meaning of something being determined by good and necessary consequence is that “there are some doctrines (such as the doctrine of the Trinity) that are dear to Christians, but that cannot be proved by any single passage of Scripture. Such doctrines must be inferred and pieced together from several passages of Scripture” (1).

My criticism is McGraw’s insistence that Baptists (even Reformed Baptists!) reject the principle of good and necessary consequence in our objection to paedobaptism because “Baptists often demand either one definite example of infant baptism in the New Testament or an express command to baptize children. This places an unbiblical limitation upon the discussion. Have not Socinians and other Unitarians consistently rejected the doctrine of the Trinity on these same grounds? It would be more proper to say that if the doctrine of infant baptism were required from Scripture by good and necessary consequence, then it ought to be believed and practiced just as much as if it had been revealed by express command or approved example” (52-53).

I readily admit most Baptists have a difficult time accepting paedobaptism for the reasons presented by McGraw, but it seems unfathomable to him that we would reject paedobaptism on the grounds of not finding sufficient support for the practice by good and necessary consequence.  In other words, while many will reject paedobaptism solely on the grounds of there being no examples of or commands for paedobaptism in the Scriptures, he ignores the fact that thoughtful Reformed Baptists have rightly understood the paedobaptist view and have rejected it on the grounds of finding it lacking by good and necessary consequence, both in historical and contemporary responses. In fact, I agree with McGraw’s conclusion, namely that were paedobaptism “required from Scripture by good and necessary consequence, then it ought to be believed and practiced just as much as if it had been revealed by express command or approved example,” but therein lies the problem: we, Reformed Baptists, do not see the Scriptures requiring infant baptism in any sense to include good and necessary consequence. In fact, we even find the Westminster’s statements regarding baptism (28:1, 4) to be contradictory (see From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism by W. Gary Crampton). I recommend the work of Douglas Van Dorn and Dr. Fred Malone in helping advance the conversation regarding this very important ordinance where credobaptists and paedobaptists have often talked past instead of to each other. This is, in my opinion, the only unfortunate section of McGraws otherwise excellent work (74 pages).

I highly recommend these two books and look forward to further works in this helpful series.

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