A Review of Blind Spots by Collin Hansen

Book Reviews, Books, Christian Living

When it comes to blind spots in the Christian life, we have two options: Admit we have them, or lie. I’ve never held a theological or philosophical position assuming it was wrong. Who does that? But it’s either the height of arrogance or ignorance to think it’s not possible that I have some wrong ideas, hold certain ideas in imbalance, or haven’t adequately considered viable alternatives. Challenging me to think clearly and critically about my own positions, I was helped tremendously by Collin Hansen‘s latest book entitled Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (Hansen is the Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition).

In my own understanding and interacting with other Christians outside my tradition and theological framework, I will be the first to admit that I haven’t always done a great job. I could have easily been the one writing Hansen’s words: “With my highly attuned gift for discerning others’ motives, it didn’t take long for me to see what’s wrong with everyone else. Then I blamed them for not seeing the wisdom in my arguments… Because I’d understood my experience as normative for everyone, I couldn’t see how God blessed other Christians with different stories and strengths.”

Certainly, there are specific, unalterable truths that should not be tampered with, downplayed, or discarded. God has revealed in His Word, “Those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation” and those things “are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them” (1.7 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689). I have long been an advocate of Dr. Albert Mohler’s three-tiered Theological Triage and find it to be a helpful matrix in which to frame each Christian relationship. But I’m thankful that Hansen presses the conversation even further. He writes, “This book is about seeing our differences as opportunity. God created us in splendid diversity of thought, experience, and personality. And when these differences cohere around the gospel of Jesus Christ, they work together to challenge, comfort, and compel a needy world with the only love that will never fail or fade.”

Focusing on the gospel as the unifying, unalterable center of relationships and conversations, Hansen points out that all Christians have further, specific emphases that we assume to be more important than others, and he places them into three distinct categories. We will identify closely with either compassionate Christians, courageous Christians, or commissioned Christians. In each category, Hansen outlines the distinctives that are commendable and worthy of emulating, and suggests temptations that should be guarded against lest our blind spots remain undiscovered and crippling to our Kingdom efforts. It’s most likely that every Christian will resonate on some level with each category, because they all contain biblical elements, however the honest reader will find himself in a specific category more than the others.

Compassionate Christians

The compassionate Christians are those who see the hurting, broken world around them and have a longing to relieve suffering and poverty. Hansen describes the compassionate Christians: “You clothe the homeless, feed the hungry, nurse the sick. You write the letters, shame the offenders, protest the powers.” Compassionate Christians are quick to see the abundance of biblical exhortations about the disenfranchised “little people” of society and to call the church to action.

Hansen commends the compassionate Christians for their focus on an area of biblical truth and action that should always be on the church’s radar, but also warns, “With compassion comes blame. In a broken world that lacks simple solutions and people who care, it can become all too easy to blame those who aren’t mending our society. Compassion abounds for humanity, just not for humans.” Hansen wisely warns compassionate Christians to not emphasize giving at the expense of the gospel itself. It’s important to remember that our “compassion won’t always be appreciated or even received by a world that rejects the source of our compassion.”

Courageous Christians

The courageous Christians are those who take stands on truth, and oftentimes on specific issues of importance (or even non-importance). The courageous Christians are those who will make precise arguments for specific positions, and make appeals to others to not waiver from what they understand to be true. These are Christians like Martin Luther and the reformers, willing to stand, fight, and die for the things that matter. “Courage is necessary for us to endure in the faith.”

Hansen self-identified in this category, and it’s most likely that the majority of reformed Christians will. But Hansen is wise to offer some cautions here as well. The courageous Christians can sometimes turn important issues into single issues, demanding that other people fall in line behind a specific agenda or else they will be cast as an enemy and considered suspect in the future. Courageous Christians can easily become heresy hunters, and are willing to compromise the fundamental exhortation to love because of a single issue. While courage is important and necessary in the face of sin, false teaching, and evil attempts to thwart the work of God, it’s vital to be reminded that “courage is not measured by how many people you can offend.”

Commissioned Christians

Commissioned Christians are those who emphasize mission with an eye toward bringing as many into the church and God’s Kingdom as possible. “You might be a commissioned Christian if you worry that younger generations will slip away or never bother to show up unless churches adapt to changing times. You’re not exactly conservative or liberal in theological terms. You probably trust in the authority of Scripture and hold to conservative views on issues such as the exclusivity of Christ; otherwise why bother with evangelism? But you don’t fit in with Christians who actually enjoy debating theology or arguing over whether ministry practices conform to Scripture. You want to get on with the serious, urgent work of changing lives with the power of the gospel.”

Commissioned Christians seek to push the church to the highways and hedges that the gospel would be proclaimed far and wide. Surely, a continued focus on the great commission is important and necessary. However, Hansen warns, “in their search for cultural relevance,” commissioned Christians “can slide into syncretism. And their eagerness to expand the tent can culminate in theological compromise. Sometimes these churches don’t merely resemble the mall with their expansive parking lots and food courts; they also communicate with ‘practical’ and ‘relevant’ messages that Christianity is an à la carte faith that supplements our private pursuit of peace, wealth, and status.”

A Call to Unity and Growth

Hansen’s book challenges readers to identify personal tendencies to over-emphasize certain areas of focus at the expense of others. We never outgrow our need to find balance in the Christian life, and we can more readily do so when we are more determined to learn from other believers instead of instantly seeking to find ways to differ from them. Certainly, there will be significant differences from one Christian to another, however they need not always be divisive or viewed with negativity and skepticism. Our goal should be “the kind of biblical fulness that . . . expects opposition from the world and seeks unity among believers for the sake of the world.”

I highly recommend Hansen’s book to those who are willing to ask questions of their own heart and consider whether or not their blind spots have kept them from learning from other Christians who have a lot to offer.

If you want more before picking up the book, read 20 Truths From Blind Spots.

(By: Nick Kennicott)

Non-Biblical Literature and the Bible: Other Second Temple Literature (Fifth Post)

Book Reviews, Books, Christian Living, Church History, Discipleship, Uncategorized

Second Temple (S.T.) literature is the entire diverse (and I mean diverse, as there is no such thing as one brand of theology that it contains) corpus of Jewish literature put down in writing between 538 B.C. – 70 A.D. It reflects the theology, history, hopes, and prayers of the Jewish people. It typically includes the OT Apocrypha, OT Pseudepigrapha which we have already looked at, but also Josephus and Philo, Dead Sea Scrolls, Mishna, and Targums which we will look at in this post. We should alsoSecond_Temple_view keep in mind that some OT books and many NT books were also written during this time as well.

With all there was to talk about in the previous posts, we have not had time to look at why this literature exists in the first place. But it is an important question. The Jews had been in captivity for 70 years, between roughly 605 – 535 B.C.  The second generation led by Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest returned to Judah to find their land and culture in ruins.  Jews in Babylon were now assimilating a new language, culture, and religion (like Zoroastrianism).  In Judea, Aramaic (now dominated; fewer and fewer people could read or understand Hebrew. Two hundred years later, everyone would be speaking Greek. Around 458 B.C., Ezra is sent by Artaxerxes I to Jerusalem to teach his people the Law of God. It is during this time that Ezra commissions fresh copies of the ancient books to be transcribed. Meanwhile, new revelations from the LORD were given to Ezra, Nehemiah, and later prophets like Haggai and Malachi.

Evangelicals are used to thinking of the years between Malachi and Matthew (roughly 450 B.C. – Christ) as the “silent years.” This phrase refers to inspired prophetic revelation, not to Jewish literary activity. In fact, during this time, the Jews were extremely busy putting down ancient oral tradition into writing for fear that if they did not, their entire history would be erased from memory. This serves as the most important reason that S.T. Literature exists. The second has to do with the Jewish need to try and understand their present circumstances in a theological way. This literature reflects the ability to think theologically about their circumstances, advancing one idea in such and such a book, and another idea in a different book.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Probably the most important discovery of the 20th century in terms of Christianity was the so called “Dead Sea Scrolls.” Discovered in 1947 in a series of caves near the Dead Sea in Israel, this treasure trove of literature opened up new vistas in our OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunderstanding of life amidst one community of Jews in the two centuries just prior to Jesus Christ. They were a group of ascetics, dedicated to poverty, ritual immersions, and priestly rule of law. For a working list of the Dead Sea Scrolls see the Table at the end of this post. Among the most important finds at Qumran were copies of the Scripture that dated back 1,000 years prior to our formerly earliest copies of the OT. You can actually purchase a definitive English version of the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (see bibliography in the last post of this series).

Philo and Josephus

Josephus is the more famous of these two historian/theologians. A contemporary of Peter and Paul, “He was a Jewish priest at the time of the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66.  He was captured by the Romans, imprisoned, set free and then retired to Rome where he wrote a history of the Jewish Revolt called the Jewish War.  Later he wrote Antiquities as a history of the Jews.[1] Philo of Alexandria was a contemporary of Jesus (25 B.C. – c. 50 A.D.). He was a hellenistic Jewish philosopher living in Egypt and had an influence on several Church Fathers, especially those of the more allegorical bent of interpretation.


There are many reasons to read these two men. Perhaps the most fascinating is that, each in his own way, they bear witness to Jesus Christ. Josephus actually knew about Jesus of Nazareth and wrote about him (Antiquities 18.63-64). Philo, who does not seem to have been acquainted with Jesus the man, certainly writes about the person Jesus claimed to be: the Logos. Reading Philo on this is often just like reading the Gospel of John.[2] Philo is reflecting here a theology called “Two Powers” by the Rabbis that was common in a lot of Second Temple literature. Two Powers theology believed in only one God, but also a Second Figure that seemed to be both God and yet something or someone other than God, and this becomes a major channel through which NT Christology is developed. For this reason alone I recommend this material is highly.


Mishna is the first major redaction (a form of editing multiple sources into a single work) of Jewish oral tradition. Though not finished until sometime before the death of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (217 A.D.), its contents certainly fit the time frame of the NT and even prior to that. Mishna differs from midrash, in that the latter compiles thoughts in a biblical order, while the former compiles them theologically or thematically. There are six “orders” of Mishna:

  • Zera’im (“Seeds”), dealing with prayer and blessings, tithes and agricultural laws (11 tractates)
  • Mo’ed (“Festival”), pertaining to the laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals (12 tractates)
  • Nashim (“Women”), concerning marriage and divorce, some forms of oaths and the laws of the nazirite (7 tractates)
  • Nezikin (“Damages”), dealing with civil and criminal law, the functioning of the courts and oaths (10 tractates)
  • Kodashim (“Holy things”), regarding sacrificial rites, the temple and the dietary laws (11 tractates)
  • Tohorot (“Purities”), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of food purity and bodily purity (12 tractates).

Along with the later (and much larger) collections of Talmud (but to a greater degree than Talmud), Mishna helps us to better understand the thinking of Jews and their Scripture at the time of the NT. You want greater insight into Jesus’ dealing with the Pharisees? You may just find it in the Mishna.


Targums are completely fascinating and some of my favorite ancient literature to read, because Targums are actually paraphrases of Holy Scripture itself. I liken to them in some ways to modern translations of the Bible such as The Message or The Living Bible. Targums were written in Aramaic (a cousin language to Hebrew) for Aramaic speaking Jews before, during, and shortly after the close of the NT. They were often read in the synagogues.

To a greater or lesser degree, depending up on the particular Targum, they follow the ancient Jewish practice—a practice seen in the NT itself—of midrash. You can liken midrash to what is supposed to be a main job description of a pastor. First, he exegetes a text, then it delivers a homily/sermon. Midrash often fills in gaps that are in the Scripture. Thus, in some of the more liberal Targums, you will find short stories that explain some kind of bewildering passage. These stories were rooted in ancient Jewish oral tradition. Being that I have a kind of hobby of writing about biblical giants, I thought I would give you an example. Here is Gen 14:13 from Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:

And Og came, who had been spared from the giants that died in the deluge, and had ridden protected upon the top of the ark, and sustained with food by Noah; not being spared through high righteousness, but that the inhabitants of the world might see the power of the Lord, and say, Were there not giants who in the first times rebelled against the Lord of the world, and perished from the earth? But when these kings made war, behold, Og, who was with them, said in his heart, I will go and show Abram concerning Lot, who is led captive, that he may come and deliver him from the hands of the kings into whose hands he has been delivered. And he arose and came, upon the eve of the day of the Pascha, and found him making the unleavened cakes. Then showed he to Abram the Hebrew, who dwelt in the valleys of Mamre Amoraah, brother of Eshkol and brother of Aner, who were men of covenant with Abram. (Gen 14:13 PJE, purple is the actual biblical text, italics is the midrash)

There are several Targums, representing many books of the OT. Some books of the Bible have multiple Targums preserved. For example, Genesis-Deuteronomy have versions of the fairly conservative Onkelos Targum which deviates from the biblical text much than the more expansive Neofiti and Pseudo-Jonathan Targums. A final note: Many OT books have ancient Jewish commentaries called Rabbahs (Genesis Rabbah, Exodus Rabbah, etc. These date a little later than the Targums, are hard to get full copies of in English, but a few can be found online). Pastors such as John Gill often made use of these in his commentaries.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)


Chart by Douglas Van Dorn

[1] Matt Slick, “Regarding the quotes from the historian Josephus about Jesus,” CARM at https://carm.org/regarding-quotes-historian-josephus-about-jesus, last accessed 3-9-2015.

[2] For a brief snippet on Philo and the Logos see: https://thedecablog.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/christ-in-the-old-testament-part-vi/.

Baptism in the Early Church

Book Reviews, Church History, The Church, Theology, Uncategorized, Worship

51YWHVKQWYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Note: For many of us who identify as “Reformed” Baptist, the question of the proper recipients and mode of baptism is quite pressing.  This is the primary practical matter that separates us from our other Reformed brethren.  Although the answer to this question must be settled by Scripture alone, church history is a helpful witness and relevant voice.  However, there are often competing historical narratives put forth, especially regarding the true views and practice of the so called “Early Church.”  Perhaps this extended book review of Baptism in the Early Church by Stander and Louw will be of assistance to some of my brethren working through these issues.  SDG!

History is a canvas upon which we often paint our own self-portrait.  By this it is meant that history as we experience it is in its very nature always mediated, and even when dealing directly with primary sources we do not approach them without significant presuppositions, barriers and biases.  What we call history is usually a carefully composed interpretive construct we have imposed upon the data.  While some are attracted to historical study on the basis of a romantic notion of objectivity, the truth is that historiography often says more about its practitioners than its subjects.  We are not typically neutral receivers of history; we have an active interest in interpreting the past in such a way that it supports the various agendas of the present.  To borrow and tweak a phrase from Paul, where agenda abounds anachronism abounds all the more.

One theological area in which these anachronisms typically reveal themselves is the debate concerning the recipients and mode of Christian baptism.  There is a very real temptation to go into the Patristic source documents searching for Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans or Catholics born out of due time.  Although a thorough discussion of the commonly subjective nature of history is beyond the scope of this review, these brief comments do well to define the arena into which Profs. Hendrick F. Stander and Johannes P. Louw offer their work Baptism in the Early Church.  While they are not necessarily immune themselves from bias and subjectivity, they at least recognize the problem and have sought to offer as neutral a presentation of the historical data as they can.

First, on pages 15-16 they acknowledge the reality of theological bias common in historical work:

Scholars are often led by their theological presuppositions when they claim that history supports their particular point of view.  All the different perspectives concerning baptism have been ‘proved’ by quotations from the writers of the early church.

The authors are able to marshal many witnesses to prove this point.  Through several direct quotes from historical works along side the original sources in their own contexts, they show the way that men such as A.C. Barnard, W. Oetting, W. Marais and L.J.C. Van den Berg[1] have (in the words of Stander and Louw) gone to history “groping for proofs “(p. 26).  They then clearly delineate the scope of their own current contribution to the historical conversation regarding the doctrine of Christian baptism:

It is not the aim of this book to defend any theological point of view.  Certainly not.  The purpose of this study is to present the information about the actual rite of baptism in the writings of the early church as literally as possible, and in historical order, so as to provide a source book which may be of help to debaters in their quest for the practice of baptism in the first four centuries A.D (p. 16).

This review will now summarize some of the key historical data presented by this “source book” and then analyze its contribution to the modern debates.  Although all of the sources presented are a vital part of the Patristic witness, only the chapters on The Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian will be briefly summarized in this review.[2]

The ‘Apostolic Fathers’ is somewhat of a misnomer, as it simply refers to a small collection of writings which are only unified by their unique antiquity among the corpus of Christian writings.  These are the most ancient non-Scriptural witnesses we currently possess.  Stander and Louw only deal with three of them, as the others have nothing significant to contribute to discussions on baptism.  Those three are The Didache, The Epistle of Barnabas, and The Shepherd of Hermas.  Common threads begin to develop which will remain a constant throughout this study.  Namely, a pre-baptismal requirement of fasting and prayer (p. 33), the use of language with best harmonizes with immersion of the body as the normative mode (p. 37), and the prevalent early church understanding of baptism as being effectual for the remission of sins (pp. 39-42).  Interestingly, these initial foci include both a strong argument in favor of exclusive patristic credobaptism (infants would not have been able to fast and pray, and there is no exception for them mentioned) and the seed that the authors later will argue eventually blossomed into acceptance of paedobaptism (if baptism provides for the actual remission of sins a society with a high mortality rate temps disaster by withholding it).[3]

The late second century work by Irenaeus entitled Against Heresies is primarily relevant because of the appeal made to his inclusion of infants in those who “through [Christ] are born to God” (p. 53).  But a broader look at the context shows that he was actually arguing along lines quite foreign to our own debates- namely that Jesus passed through all stages of life in the flesh (even making it to the age of ninety or more!)  in order to redeem all sorts of people.  That fact gives critical context to his quote that “Jesus came to save all through means of Himself- all, I say, who through Him are born again to God- infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men” (p. 53).  Yet this quote is often appealed to as a proof text for infant baptism without due consideration of its unique intent.

Perhaps the most frequently debated ancient passage on Baptism and its recipients is found in the writings of Tertullian.  Although Chapter 7 includes many interesting passages concerning immersion and other baptismal details, the more famous quote is actually dealt with in Chapter 1.  The passage in question relates to whether baptism should be delayed until as close to death as possible (so as to allow the subject no time to commit new sins after being cleansed), or if it should be administered to the very young.  The reader will need to consult the book itself for a full discussion, but one quote from Stander and Louw will reveal the thrust of their analysis:

The passage from Tertullian does not speak of infant baptism as it is understood today; it merely refers to a practice among some Christians (of which Tertullian disapproves) to baptize people at a very early stage as small children (p. 18).

The final ancient witness to be summarized in this review is that of Cyprian.  He is selected because, in the words of the authors, “Cyprian is the first Church Father who bears indisputable witness to the practice of infant baptism in the Christian church of the third century” (p. 105).  The document in question is a letter sent to the Bishop Fidus in the year 253.  That it describes and assumes infant baptism is beyond debate.  Here is the first explicit mention of that practice which does not require any contextual acrobatics or special pleading.  Yet lest we fall into the very anachronisms this review began by warning against, the authors helpfully point out that “…one should remember that Cyprian’s motivation for infant baptism differs from the motivation offered by those churches who profess infant baptism since the Reformation” (p. 116).  Cyprian is no more a Westminster Presbyterian born in the wrong century than Tertullian is a lonely ancient Baptist because he describes immersion .  We must not conscript these men into our various causes on the basis of similarities which are tertiary at best.[4]

This review began by arguing that neutrality tends to be a stranger to historiography.  Stander and Louw have labored to overcome this fact, and have presented the fact in as plain a manner as they can.  When the history has been allowed to speak with as much unbiased clarity as they are able to give it, what does it say?  This review will close with three observations.

First, Stander and Louw do not come across completely unbiased.  A fair-minded reader (even a credobaptist one) should admit that they seem predisposed to explain the evidence in favor of immersion and credobaptism.  Regarding the question of whether the normative mode of baptism in the early church was immersion or effusion, they interpret the early Christian art they present as inconclusive (pp. 172-9).  However, this art seems to clearly depict one person pouring water on another in several of the examples shown.  They are right to critique the practice of reading too much into the diverse size of the depicted subjects, as ancient art tended to reflect the patron/client societal structure of the day with authority figures drawn significantly larger than their dependents.  Therefore, assuming that the size discrepancy in this art reflects very young recipients of Baptism is unwarranted.  But it seems a stretch to say that the one being baptized is not being effused in the pictures on pages 172-3.  Furthermore, they present in the introduction many examples of paedobaptist mishandling of the historical witness without giving credobaptist missteps equal time.[5]  While this may reflect an actual superiority of credobaptist historians on this point, it more likely is simply a reflection of the authors’ South African context.  Fallacious Baptist appeals to history are fairly common in the West.[6]  This apparent predisposition in favor of immersion and credobaptism may also be due to the fact that as paedobaptists themselves, Stander and Louw at time go further than is necessary to appear unbiased in favor of their own scruples.  Sometimes our good intensions in this regard can make us distastefully uncharitable to our own theological allies.

Second, while this work is a valuable contribution to the Church’s understanding of baptism, it also serves to remind the reader of the limitations of Historical Theology.  Books like this rarely change minds.  Typically those who already held the view favored by history are encouraged and strengthened in their position, while those who already disagreed take issue with the methodology and conclusions offered.  Furthermore, we must always remember to keep Historical Theology in check.  As Dr. James M. Renihan writes in his foreword, “In theological debate, history should never be the final judge; that place is reserved for Scripture” (p. 7).

Yet thirdly, we ought never be afraid to let history speak to us with as clear a voice as our research is able to give it.  That voice should never be as loud as that of Scripture, but that does not make the voice irrelevant.  As Dr. Renihan continues, “History may, however, make a significant contribution to the discussion, shedding light on the practices of those living closest to the era of the Bible” (p. 7).

With those thoughts about the chaste nature of Historical Theology in mind, and remembering everything the introduction of this review asserted regarding the way we tend to paint the concerns of the present upon the unsuspecting canvas of the past, a bold statement can now be made in context: Baptism in the Early Church powerfully argues in favor of credobaptism by immersion.  While there are many legitimately debatable references in the Patristic witness regarding possible examples of the baptism of infants, one must look up from these small grains of sand and survey the vast beach before him.  Anyone who examines the material available from this period should be struck by the sheer amount of detail the early writers went into when describing baptism.  We are told the preferred temperature of the water, the advisable dates, the specific language used, the preparations, the immediate aftermath, the appropriate levels of dress, even how to handle the baptism of menstruating women and much more.  But there are no provisions made for infancy until hundreds of years had passed on from the days of the Apostles.  Furthermore, the oft-repeated arguments that these documents (as well as the New Testament) are simply describing convert baptism and not covenant family baptism do no hold up either.  As Stander and Louw write on page 186, “…no distinction was ever made between persons coming from a heathen or Christian family,” and on page 80 that even if vague references are interpreted in favor of paedobaptist practice, “…it is important to notice that the baptism of these infants was not linked to the covenant or the rite of circumsicion.”[7]

As it concerns the debates within the modern Reformed milieu of which this current writer is a member, Baptism in the Early Church is certainly no deathblow to the covenantal infant baptism of the churches which subscribe to the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity.  To expect it to do so would be to ask the historical witness to go beyond its bounds.[8]  But the apparent fact that infant baptism was not the practice of the earliest churches, nor was it likely introduced for hundreds of years, does testify strongly in favor of the Baptist position.  The reflections of the authors on this point serve as a fitting conclusion to this review:

The patristic literature of the first four centuries clearly shows how infant baptism developed.  Probably the first instances known, occurred in the latter part of the third century, mostly in North Africa, but during the fourth century infant baptism became more and more accepted… the development of the church (after church and State became reconciled) into a more unified body, controlled by the see of Rome, provided a theological base for infant baptism to be accepted… since the fourth century infant baptism began to develop into a generally accepted custom” (p. 184).

[1] Although the works the authors interact with in the introduction betray their South African context, the reader will have no trouble applying the same analysis to more familiar authors.  Even John Calvin wrote of infant baptism that “…there is no ancient writer who does not refer its origin, as a matter of certainty, to the age of the apostles” (cited in Jewett, Infant Baptism & The Covenant of Grace, p. 14 n. 2), an assertion which this current work immediately discredits.

[2] The required brevity of this review makes this list uncomfortably selective.  The author has attempted to avoid redundancy, and has thus left out some key texts which have similar aspects to those highlighted.

[3] See the Conclusion, especially pp. 183-4 for a more nuanced discussion of this process and the role “emergency baptism” played in the early church.

[4] By this it is meant that we must not be myopic in our research.  We should start with their overall witness to baptism, which first addresses other concerns such as theological meaning and the various relevant cultural/ecclesiastical pressures before looking for testimony regarding our own views on baptism’s recipients and mode.

[5] To be fair, they do occasionally critique credobaptist mishandlings of the text, but only rarely.  One example is on pages 44-5 where they are critical of Aland’s interpretation of the Apology of Aristedes of Athens.

[6] See The Trail of Blood by Dr. J.W. Carroll as a particularly egregious example

[7] Paedobaptist theologians often argue that there is no command given in the New Testament to baptize infants because the principle of covenant family inclusion was so ingrained in Israel that none was necessary.  When one surveys the early church documents and finds this silence continuing, one does wonder when this argument runs out of steam.  Even when extending charity on this point, our practices do need to eventually exist somewhere to be considered valid.

[8] In attempting to empathize with his paedobaptist brothers, this author believes that if he were Scripturally convinced of covanental infant baptism, he would not be shaken by Baptism in the Early Church.  Even if it is granted that the early church practiced immersion and exclusive credobaptism, it is also indisputable that they believed near universally in the conflation of the symbol and the thing signified, i.e. baptismal regeneration.  It is not totally invalid for principled paedobaptists to object that modern credobaptists are selective in their championing of the early church witness at this point.  Yet the reply is that there is a real difference between heteropraxy and heterodoxy at this stage of the church.  It takes far longer for the church to develop dogma than it ought for vital practices to be corrupted.

The New Calvinism Considered by Jeremy Walker (A Review)

Book Reviews, The Church

new-calvinism-front1-Jeremy-WalkerIt’s hard to criticize well.  The dangers are numerous- pride, misrepresentation, and imbalance are always a threat; not to mention those parallel temptations of timidity, revisionism, and hero-worship.  Especially among the people of God, the call to discernment (which requires a critical eye) is always difficult to navigate.  Yet navigate it we must.  God has called us to neither combativeness nor cowardliness, but rather to a charitable clarity which is willing to both give and receive a friendly critique.

With all that in mind, I received a copy of The New Calvinism Considered by Jeremy Walker in the mail last week with great anticipation, eager to see how one from my own denominational circles (Confessional Reformed Baptist) would offer criticism to a group that played a key role in my own Reformation.  More on that at the end of this review.

Walker offers in this book what he describes as A Personal and Pastoral Assessment.  Although much of this material has existed online in various formats for a few years, it is helpful to have it all condensed, expanded, updated and well presented in this new volume.  Having read Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless and Reformed a few years ago I would say that Walker supplies what that book left many asking for- a careful and clear evaluation of the New Calvinism movement.  To be clear- Hansen approached the topic as a journalist rather than a pastor, and so the sort of interaction Walker is able to offer was beyond his scope.  While interested readers may benefit from reading both volumes in tandem, if I had to pick one it would clearly be Walker.

Rather than fully summarize the contents of the book, let me simply share with you four reasons I can heartily commend it.

1. It is well written and short 

Walker has committed what some in the academic guild seem to consider the unpardonable sin, yet which this Calvinist considers near visible proof of divine election- he has written a substantive book that is clear, engaging, and exactly as long as it needed to be.  Although there are occasional points at which it has the ambiance of modified teaching notes, on the whole it is that happy combination of an easy read which is always telling you something important.  It is even occasionally funny- a trait I believe was actually intentional.

2. It is humble and self-critical

On page 44 Walker concludes his section commending the “grace-soaked” nature of much of the New Calvinism.  He call his fellow traditionally Reformed observers of the movement to ask themselves hard questions over whether or not they have let their own delight over God’s grace cool to the point where it has become “familiar or suspect.”  He even personally owns his own propensity to arrogance on page 98.  While this review opened by acknowledging the inherent difficulties in offering (even needed) criticism, a man who is able to humbly admit his own faults and be self-critical is the sort you want to tackle the task.

3. It is charitable and nuanced

An entire chapter is given over to commendations, and while there are sometimes caveats and critiques nestled among them, these commendations come off as thoroughly genuine.  Furthermore, when he does criticize I appreciate that Walker takes the time to say that the New Calvinism is hardly monolithic.  He doesn’t impute the sins of its more radical fringes to its more chaste proponents.  Both this willingness to commend brothers in Christ where they are commendable and to admit nuance and diversity among the New Calvinists has been a desperately missing ingredient from some of the more scathing evaluations which have been offered by others.

4. It is clear and to the point

It is necessary to offer criticism humbly and with an eye toward self-correction, but eventually the criticism must indeed be offered.  I am thankful that Walker is willing to wade into some of the more concerning issues with eyes wide open, and I believe his good Christian testimony emerges intact (no small feet these days when it comes to intra-Christian criticism).  Specifically, I am thankful for the way he openly and clearly deals with concerns which have themselves been open and clear for some time- the tendency of many in these circles towards forms of Amyraldianism and essentially Arminian methodologies, the clear pragmatism which some espouse with only minimal veneer, and the shameful way some of the worst offenders have spoken of sexuality while sporting a juvenile smirk.

It is not unloving to point these things out.  The fact is they are already been out for some time, at least for any who have cared to observe them.  If you take up the book to read it, you can judge for yourself whether or not Walker handles his critique well.   I believe he has, and I would simply ask that if you do feel he has not succeeded in his attempted nuance and humility, you will at least not let that fact cloud your evaluation of the concerns he brings to the table.  Don’t shoot the proverbial messenger for pointing out what most anyone with five minutes and an internet connection can find for themselves.

I started this out by mentioning that I was excited to read someone from my own denominational circles interact with some who had previously had a very real impact on my own theological development.  In brief, I left broad evangelicalism in a reaction against what I saw as the uncut pragmatism being offered in the Church Growth Movement.  This departure led me into circles influenced by John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul.  Early on I read a Walt Chantry book, but I had no concept of what a Reformed Baptist was, nor that anything like the 1689 Baptist Confession even existed.  Eventually it was shown to me and I began to move in that direction, although without any church or councilors to guide me.  For a few years I settled into an Acts 29 church north of Seattle and got a good taste of this thing called New Calvinism.  I then made my way through various OPC and PCA congregations before eventually encountering other Reformed Baptists in the Pacific Northwest- meetings which eventually culminated in helping to plant a 1689 Confessional church, enrolling with Reformed Baptist Seminary, and eventually moving across the country to serve in the church I now call home.

Why tack on this autobiographical blurb to the end of a book review?  Because it may give the reader a sense of why I so appreciate the tone of this book.  I fully agree with his concerns, but I am so thankful that he has not offered them in the manner I have heard and read others offer them.  I now feel there is a good point of reference for conversation, a critique offered from my own camp I don’t have to apologize for.  I also want to say something to those who have been very heavy handed not just in their concerns, but in the way they have impugned those within this movement personally.  There was a time when I was a rank and file young man in one of these churches.  Now I embrace a Confessionally Reformed Baptist identity.  I don’t say that to exalt myself in any way, shape, or form- or to say that those who haven’t moved in the way I have are somehow lagging in their sanctification.  Rather, my point is that if you are genuinely concerned, you should know that there are many within these circles who are eager to listen.  A book like this would have been a real help to me as I worked through some of these very issues.

In conclusion then: If you love the New Calvinism and bristle at any suggested critique (you know who you are), you need this book.  It you loath the New Calvinism and get secretly giddy whenever one of its leading men makes a misstep (you know who you are) you need this book.  Jeremy Walker has offered criticism in a careful, humble, and charitable manner- yet he has been clear.  The current Calvinism, both New and Old, is in his debt.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

P.S.- Here’s an interview with Walker conducted by his publisher:

My Top 5 Reads

Book Reviews

BooksI read a lot and am often asked what I think other Christians should read as well. I consider it an integral part of my work, and I always encourage Christians to read more. So, in an effort to stoke your literary fire a bit, I would like to offer my top 5 list (apart from the Bible) of what I think every Christian should read and understand (in no particular order)…

Authority by: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Lloyd-Jones delivered three messages on authority which were compiled to make this short, but very important volume. He covers the authority of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the authority of the Holy Spirit. As a people (i.e. Americans) who question and often reject all forms of authority, Lloyd-Jones delivers a masterful reminder of our true authority and what it means in our daily lives as God’s people.

The Marrow of Modern Divinity by: Edward Fisher 

In my opinion, one of the most important issues Christians need to understand is the relationship between the law and the gospel. This classic work from the 1600’s has not disappointed when it comes to causing a bit of a stir, however it remains the most unique treatment of this very important issue. For those who have not spent a lot of time reading older literature, it might prove a bit more difficult, however it’s not a hard book to read or understand by any means. It’s as entertaining as it is helpful, and I think it’s the perfect antidote for legalism and antinomianism in the church today. The specific edition I have linked to includes the valuable explanatory notes of the puritan Thomas Boston along with an Introduction by Philip Ryken and an historical Introduction by William Vandoodeward.

Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul by: Octavius Winslow

Let’s face it: Christians get discouraged and we begin to grow stagnant or even cold in our affections for God. At times, it may be an indication of a person’s true condition and whether or not they are in the faith. However, sometimes we lack in spiritual growth and vitality and don’t know the way out. Personal Declension is one of the most stirring, helpful, encouraging and convicting books I’ve ever read. I turn to Winslow each time I’m feeling discouraged in my communion with God and find fresh words for my weary soul. He has packed mountains of help and wisdom into this volume – read it carefully and prayerfully.

The Pilgrim’s Progress by: John Bunyan

You didn’t expect me to leave off the best-selling Christian book in history, did you? Bunyan’s allegory of the life of Christian is a memorable classic that Christians should be familiar with (especially if they want to understand a lot of reformed preacher’s illustrations!). There’s nothing quite like The Pilgrim’s Progress in terms of biblical fidelity, entertainment value, and thought-producing insight into the heart of a Christian. No Christian should reach the Celestial City without having a good knowledge of The Pilgrim’s Progress!

Undiscerned Spiritual Pride by: Jonathan Edwards

At the beginning of each year I re-read Edwards on Spiritual Pride. It’s a short read, but it packs a powerful punch. It’s a particularly helpful work for young people and those in the ministry. Most people don’t assume they’re prideful, and particularly when it comes to our spiritual lives. However, argues Edwards, that’s what it’s undiscerned and why we need to be made aware of it time and time again. Spiritual pride lurks in the shadows – are you willing to root it out?

What about you? What are your top 5 reads for every Christian?

(By: Nick Kennicott)