A “Yelling At My Windshield” Reprise

Some time ago I listened through a set of conference tapes put out by Westminster West, and blogged on that experience, calling the series something like “Yelling At My Windshield.” That series of posts is in the archives here, located somewhere under Auburn Avenue Stuff. I mention it now because this particular part of my oeuvre was alluded to in a comment to my post on the Westminster Confession’s teaching on baptism. In that comment, Aaron Cummings said, “I listened to one of the Westminster West profs lambaste you, saying, ‘Doug Wilson, if you’re listening to this and pounding the windshield, please, give your comments on Heidelberg #21 and #60.’ Would you be so kind as to fulfill this request?”

Sure. So let me say this about HC 21 and 60.

First, at Christ Church our liturgy follows the church year, and recitation of the Heidelberg Catechism is part of our worship every Lord’s Day morning. Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, so we have six weeks to go before the entire congregation confesses together the first of these two questions, and twenty-two weeks to go for the second. The entire congregation answers these questions, confessing our faith together.

Second, I am teaching the Lordship Colloquium at New St. Andrews this year, and one of the class requirements is to memorize key portions of the Heidelberg Catechism. As it turns out, just last week our freshman class all memorized Q60. In Jerusalem Term, they memorized Q21 (along with a number of others). This morning, before receiving this question, I just finished drafting the written portion of their final, which requires them to write out completely two of the answers that they have memorized this term. I would like to inquire of this professor at Westminster West if his students can stand at the beginning of each class period, as my students do, and recite together the most recent question they have memorized.

Third, we do this because we believe it. We are confessing our faith, learning our faith, and deepening in our love for our faith.

And fourth, lest this all be dismissed as some kind of nutso classical college parrot-drill — where it is alleged that we might know what the Heidelberg Catechism says, but we don’t really believe it, as opposed to those true souls elsewhere who believe it, but don’t know what it says — let me summarize each of these answers in my own words.

Question 21.

What is true faith?

Answer:

It is not only a certain knowledge by which I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word, but also a wholehearted trust which the Holy Spirit creates in me through the gospel, that, not only to others, but to me also God has given the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s saving work.

I take this to mean that true faith is not just a confident knowledge that whatever God has revealed in Scripture has to be true, but also that it is a settled trust and confidence (this also a work of the Holy Spirit in my heart through the gospel) that God has not just saved other people, but that He has bestowed the grace of salvation on me also. This salvation, a sheer gift of nothing but grace, brings with it forgiveness for my sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation. This is all done through Christ’s work of obedience alone. In the work of salvation, Christ did His part and I did mine. He did the saving, and I got in the way.

Question 60.

How are you righteous before God?

Answer:

Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have not kept any one of them, and that I am still ever prone to all that is evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of my own, out of pure grace, grants me the benefits of the perfect expiation fo Christ, imputing to me his righteousness and holiness as if I had never committed a single sin or had ever been sinful, having fulfilled myself all the obedience which Christ has carried out for me, if only I accept such favor with a trusting heart.

I take this to mean that the true faith, described above in #21, is the sole instrument that God uses to declare me righteous before Him. Even though my conscience can accuse me of gross violations of God’s commandments, having broken all of them, with a tendency still to veer off toward evil, nevertheless God, without accepting or regarding any moral or ethical contributions from me, but rather out of unadulterated grace alone, gave and imputed to me all the perfections of Christ. These perfections included the perfect satisfaction of His death, not to mention the righteousness and holiness of His perfect sinless life. The result of this unspeakable grace is that it is as though I had never done anything wrong at all in my entire life, and also as though the perfect life that Christ actually lived had really been lived by me. All this is mine to extent that I accept such benefits with a believing heart, in true faith. And amen.

That said, let me make just a couple of concluding remarks. I believe all of this, and I believe it with a whole heart. I am even largely comfortable with the assertion in #21 that true faith accepts everything that God has revealed, meaning that those who deny the infallibility of Scripture are at the very least susceptible to the charge that theirs is not a true faith. Does our Westminster West friend come with me this far? Does he believe that “true faith accepts as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word,” and that if someone holds as false something that God has revealed as true, that such faith is quite likely not a true faith?

The Puritan Elevation of Metaphor

“Indeed, the only way to say anything about God’s glory is through the creatures, through metaphor, a literary device implicit in God’s creation and sanctioned by its use in Scripture . . . A system of metaphors made by God and explicated in the Bible, the world itself had its place in salvation history” (Daly, p. 19).

Ecclesiastical Wanna-Bees

“Every age has had its eager-to-please liberal theologians who have tried to reinterpret Christianity according to the latest intellectual and cultural fashion” (Gene Edward Veith, Postmodern Times, p. xii).

Cain Was the Eldest

“The Church which Christ purchased with His blood is not the only thing which is ‘of old.’ Scripture shows us the serpent has been lying from the beginning (1 Jn.3:8; Rev. 12:9). The truth is ancient, but within the experience of our race, lies are almost as ancient. The antithesis between true righteousness and self-righteousness, between the right worship of God and idolatry, has existed since the time of Abel and Cain. So raw historical data, mere antiquity, does not provide the criterion for evaluating that history. After all, Cain was the eldest” (Mother Kirk, pp. 27-28).

The Uncooperative Victim

“Job is under no illusions. Point-blank, three times in a row, and in the same military order the three friends fire off their sinister and arrogant maledictions. At whom else could they be aimed? Job is not quite yet the enemy of God in question, but he could become’s God’s enemy and certainly will, if he persists in rebelling against the unanimous voice of condemnation” (Girard, Job, p. 22).

Westminster XXVIII: Of Baptism

1. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:19), not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church (1 Cor. 12:13); but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace (Rom. 4:11; Col. 2:11–12), of his ingrafting into Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:5), of regeneration (Tit. 3:5), of remission of sins (Mark 1:4), and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life (Rom. 6:3–4). Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world (Matt. 28:19–20).

We have discussed sacraments generally. We now come to discuss the two sacraments specifically, in turn. Baptism is one of the sacraments of the new covenant. It was ordained by Jesus Christ as a sacrament in the words of the Great Commission. He told His disciples that the mark of His disciples was to be baptism. Disciple the nations, He said, baptizing them. The signification of baptism is two-fold, that is, it points in two directions. The first is the solemn recognition that the one baptized has been admitted into the visible Church of Christ. At the same time, the baptism also points away from the person, to the objective meanings of baptism. Baptism means: the one baptized has a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, the one baptized has been grafted into Christ, regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and the obligation to walk in newness of life. This sacrament is perpetual in history.

The two “meanings” of baptism which are not assigned here to the one baptized are regeneration and forgiveness. The baptism means these things, but there is a difference between saying baptism means regeneration and baptism means my regeneration. It does not automatically mean these things. At the same time, it is intended to mean them. It is “to be unto him a sign and seal . . . of regeneration.”

2. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto (Matt. 3:11; John 1:33; Matt. 28:19–20).

The essence of water baptism is found in the application of water to an individual in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This should be done by a minister of the gospel, lawfully ordained. As discussed in the last chapter, this last requirement is perhaps too strict. The minister and elders are responsible for all the baptisms, and consequently, should oversee them, and ordinarily perform them, but this is not essential.

3. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person (Heb. 9:10, 19–22; Acts 2:41; 16:33; Mark 7:4).

Dipping, or immersion, is certainly permitted, but scripturally it cannot be insisted upon. Baptism is also administered correctly when the water is poured or sprinkled upon the person. Ironically, for many Baptists this is the place where they should begin rethinking their views of baptism. The notion is that “baptizo means immersion” is very widespread, and it really cannot be defended. Consequently, when Baptists have this demonstrated to them, it may bring about a new openness when talking about the subjects of baptism.

4. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ (Mark 16:15–16; Acts 8:37–38), but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized ( Gen. 17:7, 9; Gal. 3:9, 14; Col. 2:11–12; Acts 2:38–39; Rom. 4:11–12; 1 Cor. 7:14; Matt. 28:19; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 18:15).

No disagreement exists over the propriety of baptizing pagans upon their profession of faith in Christ, along with their expressed willingness to follow and obey Him. But in addition to this, not only such people should be baptized, but also the infants (or dependent children) of such converts are to be baptized. This is the case even where only one of the parents is converted.

5. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance (Luke 7:30; Exod. 4:24–26), yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it (Rom. 4:11; Acts 10:2, 4, 22, 31, 45, 47): or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated (Acts 8:13, 23).

Neglect of baptism is a great sin, but not an unforgivable sin. We are to consider baptism and regeneration together, but we are not to treat this as an absolute. In other words, some who are not baptized will be saved, and not all who are baptized are saved. But the ordinary pattern is to see the two together.

6. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered (John 3:5, 8); yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time (Gal. 3:27; Tit. 3:5; Eph. 5:25–26; Acts 2:38, 41).

Baptism is efficacious. But the efficacy of the sacrament is not tied to the moment when it is administered. This efficacious grace is conferred on the elect at the appropriate time, the time of their conversion, and what happens in that moment is the applied grace of their baptism. For someone baptized in infancy in a covenant home, and who was converted as an adult, the Confession teaches that their conversion was due to the efficacy of their baptism. When someone under such circumstances is not converted, we obviously cannot speak of the saving efficacy of their baptism. But when such a person is converted, it is beyond all question that the Confession teaches that their baptism was efficacious, taking the grace promised in baptism, and “really exhibiting and conferring” it. It is common for many contemporary Presbyterians to depart from the Confession here by saying that the two sacraments are genuine means of grace, but that they are means of sanctifying grace only, and not saving grace. This is out of conformity with the Confession at this point—it is not heresy, but it is plainly out of conformity with the Confession, and those who hold to this position need to take an exception to the Confession. We may summarize this section as saying that “the Holy Ghost uses as His instrument a right use of the ordinance of baptism to really exhibit and confer the saving grace promised in that baptism to those elect who are the rightful beneficiaries of that grace.”

7. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered unto any person (Tit. 3:5).

This being the case, baptism is not to be administered over and over. If it were only efficacious based on the timing of it, then it would have to be administered over and over. But fortunately, it is not. To administer baptism again is therefore to deny that the first baptism was Christian baptism.

A Vat of Heideggerian Goo

Been listening to the latest Mars Hill audio, which you ought to do from time to time yourself. Anyway, on this latest one, Ken Myers interviews James K.A. Smith, whose book on postmodernism I reviewed in detail in my postmodernism thread.

Their discussion on Derrida’s infamous “there is nothing outside the text” made me think of a point I really need to make, or really need to make again. I don’t remember if I said this before. Smith does a good job pointing out that in this phrase Derrida is not making the radical relativistic point that is often attributed to him — by friend and foe alike. But Smith’s way of doing this is by pointing out the places where Derrida himself denies this inference. This, in my view, is beside the central point. The issue is whether this kind of relativism follows necessarily and immediately from Derrida’s premises, and not whether Derrida thinks it does.

Fundamentalism (all kinds) has many weaknesses, but it is not weak across the board. There are some strengths there, and this situation reveals one of them. Fundamentalism is great for identifying the implications of some positions, and then running those implications out to the dead end in about fifteen minutes. This is done with one’s own premises, and with the premises of others. Okay, someone says x. The fundamentalist approaches and says, “Let’s cash this out. What does it mean right this minute?” When Elijah said if Baal is God, follow him, and if YHWH is God, follow him, he was reasoning at this point like a fundamentalist. When Sartre said that without an infinite reference point, every finite point is absurd, he was reasoning like a fundamentalist. And since Derrida has no infinite reference point, then Bob’s yer uncle.

People who want to nuance the heck out of any given position are not dispositional fundamentalists. They want to spend their lives, and would be pleased if their intellectual grandchildren spent their lives, trying on different “readings” of Swift, or Milton, or Austen, or Aquinas, or Poe. Nothing better for a little bedtime reading than a post-structuralist feminist reading of Swift.

But I confess, without shame, that most days I have a fundamentalist turn of mind. I am not a fundamentalist in the traditional sense (e.g. I am not opposed to mixed-sex roller skating or drinking God’s brown gift of dark beer). But this fundamentalist turn is still there, and it is why I would say something like, “Of course Derrida is a relativist. He’s an atheist.” He can deny it all he wants, and he can suggest alternative readings, or he can try to hide it by pole vaulting into a vat of Heideggerian goo, but my fundamentalist turn of mind keeps right on thinking [atheism > relativism]. I also keep wondering, sometimes out loud, why this is so hard to understand.

Now I say this acknowledging that the fundamentalist turn of mind admits of abuses. Some things need to be nuanced. Fine. I have been on the receiving end of [sacraments > popery]. Failure to read some things carefully will land certain defenders of the Westminster Confession in the unenviable position that a certain military spokesman was in during the Vietnam War. “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The WSC says that the sacraments are effectual means of salvation in order to settle forever the importance of denying that they are any such thing.

So take this a plea for body life. Some things need to be nuanced, and some things need desperately not to be. Those with a sophisticated turn of mind need to talk to an intractable fundamentalist once a week or so — to keep them honest. “So how is this not fatal compromise?” And fundamentalists need to talk regularly with someone who read a book once — to keep them honest too. “So how is this not a complete misrepresentation of Calvin’s view?”

That’s it. A plea for body life.

Be Sure to Pick Up a Salt Pig

One of the things we have seen starting to take root in our community here is an emphasis on sabbath celebration. This is distinct from sabbath observance, if observance is merely defined as nothing more than having scruples about what you can and cannot do on the Lord’s Day. But learning how to call the sabbath a delight ought not to be a chore. The Lord’s Day really is a day of rest, worship, and joy.

This is something that we can start learning how to do, even if we don’t have a pile of money. Rightly understood, the sabbath is the poor man’s friend precisely because it is every man’s friend. God always takes us up where we are, not where we should have been.

Not surprisingly, this renewed emphasis on sabbath living has led to the creation of resources to help out. One of those resources is a cookbook that my daughter Rachel and son-in-law Luke put together, and which the printer will be disgorging any day now. This is a great place to start if you are just beginning to think in terms of sabbath celebration. The cookbook does not contain recipes only, but also has some good articles to get you oriented. Check that out here.

And if that were not enough, our good friends Marlin and Laurie Detweiler (of Veritas fame) have started a web business with the promotion of sabbath living in mind. You can check out what they have to offer here. Tell them I sent you, and be sure to pick up a salt pig.