A critique of the “Confessionalist” method.

Below is an outstanding analysis of the alleged “Confessionalist” approach to the Reformed Confessions by someone called sensusplenior.  I have now discovered that his name is Jon Barlow.  Men like Lane Keistner call themselves confessionalists while denying the plain teaching of the Bible and the Confessions on the efficacy of the sacraments, and actively work to drive away those who disagree with their poor theology.  This is copied from the comments over at Green Baggins:

  1. sensusplenior said,

July 31, 2013 at 7:43 pm 
I believe most English readers will see that yours (Lane’s) is quite clearly the eisegesis. The standards (e.g., sc 95) describe the conditions under which someone outside of the visible church may be baptized (profession of faith or being offspring of a church member.)
  2. sensusplenior said,

July 31, 2013 at 7:51 pm 
Yet I am not concerned with whether you are wrong or right but with how you then employ or make conclusions by means of further theologizing. You decrease the chances that the theologizing will be successful with invalid confessional premises, but you certainly don’t eliminate the risk of failure when you start even with explicit premises. It’s just awkward theological workmanship to begin with the wrong tool for the job.
  3. greenbaggins said,

July 31, 2013 at 10:50 pm 
Yes, WLC 166 plainly says that infants are already within the covenant respecting their parents who have professed faith. How can they be within the covenant but outside the visible church? If, then, they are ALREADY within the covenant, then baptism does not bring them into the covenant, but is a marker, a sign, a seal of their ALREADY being in the visible church.
  4. greenbaggins said,

July 31, 2013 at 10:56 pm 
Just to add another thought here. What irritates me no end is when any appeal whatsoever to the Westminster Standards as, say, STANDARDS of theology is interpreted as putting them on a level with Scripture. They are not on the level of Scripture any more than the preaching of the Word of God is on the same level as Scripture. And yet, in another sense, to the degree to which preaching and the Standards are accurate to the Word, they can be said to be the Word derivatively. I know I am opening myself up to the very charge I am trying to nullify. However, with the right safeguards in place this does not fall foul of the problem. Preaching and the standards have this feature in common: that when they explain the Word accurately, they are the normed norm. It is usually explained in this passive versus active way: the Scriptures are the norming norm, whereas the Standards are the normed norm. But both are norms!
  5. sensusplenior said, July 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Lane, your post at 10:50 illustrates the point very well – you may be right that the visible church is coextensive with the covenant to which the infants of believers belong at their birth, but this is a deduction – the doing of theology. You (and Phillips) are changing the phrase “solemn admission into” into the phrase “solemnizing a previous admission” – this is an aggressively theological move. Put another way – which is more aggressive – adding “baptized” in front of the the word “children” in WCF 25.2 or changing “solemn admission into” into the phrase “solemnizing a previous admission?”

My goal here is to try and make you conscious of what you’re doing when you interpret the confession the way you’re doing it. My secondary goal is hopefully to illustrate how dangerous and unfair it is to hold brothers, not to the bible, or the plain language of the standards, but rather to a tertiary deduction made by trying to systematize the confession’s covenant theology with its ecclesiology.

LC 166 plainly teaches:

1. Those outside the visible church are also outside of the covenant of promise.
2. Those outside can only be baptized if they profess faith.
3. The one exception is that you can baptize children of those who are in the church even without a profession of faith because they are in the covenant of promise (see 1).

What it does not say is:

4. that everyone who is in the covenant of promise is also in the visible church

And yet that’s precisely what it would have to say in order for your theological deduction to transform into a plain teaching of the confession that you could then harmonize with the “solemn admission” phrase in the WCF.

Now, step back again and see the forest – how can we possibly consider kicking a man out of his pastorate because he believes that baptism is the means of solemnly admitting someone to the visible church?

greenbaggins said,

August 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Sensus, there are way too many problems with your arguments for me to address. You didn’t address my points, but rather made points of your own. But one point I will address, and that is this: Leithart, for one, and most of the other FV guys as well, claim WAY more than merely saying that baptism admits one to the visible church. Leithart believes in full transformative baptismal regeneration. I would not want to kick someone out of a denomination for merely saying that baptism admits one into the visible church. But your saying that such is what I’m saying is not only a gross caricature, but also a lie. So, since you do not seem to be able to understand and/or assess accurately what I’m saying, I have no wish to continue the conversation.

Summary:  Two cautions I’d offer to confessionalists, fwiw:

1. be careful to distinguish between explaining the standards and theologizing. A lot of mischief is done by those who think they are being confessional but who really are introducing novelty while pretending it’s in the standards.

2. the standards are not raw material for theologizing in the same way that the scriptures are. We cannot always hold brothers to those things that are determined by good and necessary consequence from the standards, but we can always do this from the scriptures.

Combining #2 with a misunderstanding of the standards, or combining #2 with #1 is the most dangerous thing of all. In those cases, one clothes himself in the esteem of the standards, risks the judicial application of the standards, yet all the while being unaware that he is doing theology poorly.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic theology, trans. G. M. Giger, ed. J. T. Dennison (1679; 3 vols, Philipsburgh, 1992), i, 42., said:

Although we must not regard as the doctrine of the Reformed those which can by any method be deduced from their confessions and be imputed to them; nor as the opinion of the Lutherans that which may be inferred from their doctrine – it does not follow that we must not consider as the word of God that which may be lawfully and plainly deduced from it. The cases are entirely different. For the Holy Spirit (who searches the deep things of God as he is omniscient) could foresee and intend whatever it was possible to gather rightly from his words. But men (who are neither omniscient nor infallible) were unable to know what might in after times be deduced from their words.

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