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Book Review: Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Perspective

I have recently begun to study covenant theology. For over 15 years I had dismissed it as a Presbyterian doctrine. Over the last couple of years I have renewed an interest in Baptist history, and was surprised to discover that Baptists developed their own form of covenant theology, and that distinct in important ways from Presbyterians. I have begun to compile resources about covenant theology from a Baptist perspective, and in addition to what have become “standard” works, I went looking specifically for introductory-level books so that I could get the lay of the land. Phillip D. R. Griffiths’ Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Perspective was one of the first resources I located. This book was endorsed by Richard Barcellos and Pascal Denault.

About the Author
Griffiths is a retired teacher from Wales, where he was Head of Religious Studies at a large comprehensive school. He holds an MTh in philosophical and systematic theology. He has authored two previous books: From Calvin to Barth: A Return to Protestant Orthodoxy? and Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Person of Jesus Christ: (Defending Christ’s Deity). Griffiths states that since becoming a Christian, he has been a Calvinistic Baptist. Currently he is examining a Reformed Baptist response to N. T. Wright’s New Perspective on Paul.

Review
Griffiths begins the book by asking the question, “What is a Baptist?” He recognizes that many Baptists seem to adopt the Presbyterian formulation while dropping infant baptism. He states that he completely rejects this paradigm, and believes that a misunderstanding of the covenants is at the root of the problem. His hope is that his readers will understand that a right understanding of the covenants leads one to grasp that “the only covenant of grace is the New Covenant, and none have been saved but by virtue of this covenant.” (ix)

Baptist distinctives, Griffiths believes, have come to be associated more with the mode of baptism (immersion vs sprinkling) than by covenantal foundations (4). He states his overarching goal of the book is to show that only Reformed Baptist covenant theology is consistent with Scripture, able to refute all forms of infant baptism and upholds the baptism of believers only (6).

Griffiths begins his argument in chapter 2 by explaining what a covenant is, and asserting that there have only ever been two primary covenants: that made with the first Adam in Genesis, and that made with the second Adam, Jesus (9). To Griffiths, it is absolutely imperative that this distinction is correctly grasped. This assertion was ground-breaking and paradigm-shifting for me, who had always viewed the Mosaic Covenant as the “old” covenant rather than one with the first Adam in the garden. Personally, things began to fall into place immediately; old confusions and theological struggles began to make sense. Just this chapter of the book alone made it worth the purchase price for me.

Griffiths then spends the next five chapters unfolding the doctrine of the covenants, especially as they relate to the first and second Adam. He covers (as the chapter titles I quote verbatim here) the covenant of redemption, the plight of man under the first Adam, the work of the second Adam, two kingdoms, and the application of the blessings secured by the second Adam. It is in the final chapter mentioned here, chapter 7, where the light came on as I mentioned in the above paragraph, when Griffiths notes what he calls the central principle of covenant theology: “There are essentially two primary covenants made in time: that made with the first Adam and the new covenant made with Christ, the second Adam….One must keep in mind the fact that one is either under the first Adam, or else, one is under the second Adam, and a beneficiary of his saving work. It is always a case of either/or.” (42)

The next section of the book is heavily polemical, Griffiths interacting with paedobaptist writers on the meaning of circumcision, whether or not circumcision was replaced by baptism, the Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants, and the believer’s union with Christ. This last-mentioned chapter (chapter 13) began very, very helpfully; asserting that the heart of covenant theology is the believer’s union with Christ. “The covenant’s purpose was that God might deliver his people from their plight in the first Adam into the glorious light of the everlasting covenant in Christ.” (141) This theme occurs over and over in the book.

Griffiths spends a few pages fleshing out this union with Christ, and then returns to polemics in the remainder of the chapter and the following chapter 14.

The final substantive chapter, chapter 15, deals with the significance of Pentecost. In this chapter Griffiths examines “the baptism with/by the Holy Spirit.” He attempts to distinguish between baptism with and baptism by the Holy Spirit, and the timing of this event in the life of a believer. I found myself somewhat confused as to what Griffiths was attempting to do in this chapter; perhaps I need to re-read it a couple of times to get the sense of it.

Finally, Griffiths in chapter 16 takes time to briefly examine several proof-texts for infant baptism.

His conclusion in chapter 17 seeks to briefly summarize the Reformed Baptist view in one paragraph, stating that the preceding chapters should suffice to undergird that understanding. He concludes by saying “the Reformed Baptist covenantal paradigm displays unity in its simplicity.” (197) I believe that if, in fact, both old and new covenants are to be understood in terms of the first and second Adam, Griffiths has strikingly made this point clear.

Strengths & Weaknesses
My reactions to this book are somewhat mixed. On the one hand, I found this book to be extremely educational and informative. I was challenged to look at the Old and New Covenants in a way I had never before thought to look. I can already see how this shift is changing my thinking and causing me to re-evaluate previously held positions. Griffiths appears to be well-researched and conversant with the material he brings to the reader.

On the other hand, this is the worst edited book I have ever read. I have said Griffiths needs to fire his editor. There are many, many spelling and grammatical errors. He overuses certain words (the most egregious is the word “whilst,” which at one point was used in three or four consecutive sentences) to the point one can predict exactly when such words will appear. The entire book reads as if it were a first draft that had spell check and grammar check off. This made the book a more difficult read than it should have been. It took me several weeks to read this book when I could have read it in a week at minimum. I had to frequently stop and allow my brain to process the jumbled editing.

I also felt there was far more polemics involved than the subject warranted. The polemics were rather hard-hitting to the point of being harsh in many places. I was unsure if this book was supposed to be an introductory text, or a contribution to an ongoing discussion. The polemics made for a somewhat boring read; I kept waiting for when Griffiths would return to the Reformed Baptist perspective instead of attacking Westminster covenant theology. I felt that if Griffiths had focused on laying out a Reformed Baptist covenant theology, rather than seeking to engage in polemics with Presbyterian covenant theology, this book would have been very, very strong.

Final Thoughts
Griffiths has brought a contribution worthy of the study he has undertaken. On the strength of his focus on Reformed Baptist perspectives, this book is valuable. I would not recommend it as an introductory work for those unfamiliar with covenant theology; perhaps it is better suited as complementary to other texts.

If you would like to order this book, the Amazon link is here: Covenant Theology: A Reformed Baptist Perspective

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An Inauguration Prayer

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I am breaking my blog silence to offer a prayer at a historic moment for America. Today we inaugurate our 45th President, Donald Trump. After a contentious election season, our country is more fractured than ever. Following the prayer of Daniel in Daniel 9, I offer this prayer in hopes of inclining my heart and mind towards God alone and not Washington D.C.

Father, we come before You today humbled by Your holy will. Before the foundation of the universe You determined who would rule the nations of the world. You set in motion, and directed, the events of history to culminate in this day. Today America inaugurates its 45th President, Donald Trump.

Along with the prophet Daniel, I agree that we, America, have sinned. We have done wrong, acted wickedly, rebelled, and turned away from Your commands and ordinances. We have not listened to Your Word through our pastors and teachers. We have not lived worthy of the high calling You have called us to. You are righteous and holy, and we are worthy of the shame our behavior – before, during, and after this election – has brought upon us. Shame is ours because we have sinned against You and You alone. You have made happen the promises You gave us for our rebellion, by giving us over as a nation to depravity, to do and believe what is false; by giving us over to wicked leaders; and by giving us over to a depraved mind that rejects Your goodness for our own imagined righteousness.

But compassion and forgiveness belong to You, O Lord, though we rebel against You and refuse to obey Your standards. Because You alone are righteous, we beg You to turn Your anger and wrath away from our country, because our sins and those of those before us have turned our country into an object of scorn and ridicule among the nations of Your creation.

Create us in a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us. Restore Your people to the joy of Your salvation, bring a lost society to repent and believe in Your Son Jesus Christ, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from us. Turn Your eyes to us and see the lostness and desperation of our culture. There is nothing in us worthy of You, yet we beg You to exercise Your great mercy and compassion towards us. Lord, hear! Lord, forgive! Lord, listen and act! My God, for Your own sake, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.

I pray today, O Lord, that You will place your hand on the new President. I pray that You will guide him in the path of the righteous in all he does. Move him away from the foolishness and grievous error he has displayed to our country. Place in him a desire to do only what is best for our country, that he may do the most good for the most people. I do not ask that You grant so foolish and stupid a request as “Make America Great Again;” rather I ask You to make America Yours in heart, mind, and action just as You are indeed in possession and control of all creation.

I beg You, Most High, to make Your Son Jesus Christ known to Donald Trump truly, and not in the way so many of us have stupidly, foolishly and naively believed this past year. Remove Trump’s heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh that is receptive to You. Cover him with the blood of Jesus that his sins might be washed white as snow. Cause him to repent of his sins and believe in Your Son Jesus Christ, that he might be saved. Let his lips cry out to You, “God have mercy on me, a sinner! I believe; help my unbelief!”

Convert us, great God, to Your Son as well. Convict us to our core of the rebellion we have done against You. Turn our eyes to You that we might be healed of our national nightmare. Make us seek Your forgiveness, Your mercy and grace and truth. Preach to us the Gospel of Jesus Christ so clearly that no man, woman, or child can deny the truth of their condition and turn to You for salvation. Let revival sweep our nation, beginning in each one of us and our households. You, and You only, can do this, loving and just Father.

I thank You for hearing my prayer. I beg You to act that Your name might be glorified in Your mercy as it is now glorified in Your judgment of America.

In the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by the power of Your Holy Spirit within me, I pray. Amen.

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Do Babies Who Die Go To Heaven?

Hello! It has been a long while since I have posted here, but recent happenings have prompted a momentary return.

Nearly 10 years ago, I tackled this question. I attempted to address common answers to the question and seek out a biblically faithful answer. I made sure to give a deeper background and foundation for the discussion than most answers provide. With the plethora of Planned Parenthood abortion videos going around this year, I felt it prudent to gather the series under one post for ease of access. The series is as listed below.

Infant Salvation Prolegomena: Original Sin
Infant Salvation: Beginning Assumptions
Infant Salvation: The Age of Accountability
Infant Salvation: Infant Regeneration Part 1 and Part 2
Infant Salvation: The Call of Christ to Children
Infant Salvation: Final

At some future date I may decide to review and revise these posts, but I am still quite satisfied with this series and its conclusions. I pray you find these posts helpful as you consider the issue.

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There Is A Fountain

February 9, 2013 1 comment

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains…

What a promise!  The one hope of all humanity!  The blood of the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

This is the Gospel message.  Believe in Jesus, and you will be transformed.  No more will you face an empty pursuit of your own desires.  You will pursue something greater and lasting.  You will find fulfillment in humbling yourself in the sight of the Lord.

There is absolutely nothing that can defeat the blood of Jesus!  Nothing you have done could possibly cause him to turn you away.  Nothing you have done will cause him to cast you out once you are his.  His blood bought you away from the wrath of a God who must punish sin.  There are no returns or exchanges in God’s economy!

Believe in Jesus today!

Oh, the blood of Jesus!
Oh, the blood of Jesus!
Oh, the blood of Jesus!
It washes white as snow!

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A Long Overdue Update

December 20, 2010 1 comment

Family Photo

Yes, I know. It has been forever. Sue me.

I have not blogged much this year because, quite frankly, the blogging bug has long since ceased to have much influence. I have not even read many blogs unless they were linked to me through social networking (that is, Twitter and Facebook). Much of my time and energy has been taken up by several concerns, some of which I will briefly update you on today.

Family
My number one duty, above and beyond being a pastor, is my role as a husband and father. This past year has been one of great change for us. As many of you know, last August 2009 we welcomed a new addition in Cassandra Elaine, and in January our oldest, Grace Elizabeth, turned 2! Much of our time has been taken up in handling two fast-growing little girls and trying our best to keep our marriage centered on God and on each other. It is difficult when one works 3rd shift to do all of these things!

Grace is now exercising her large vocabulary regularly, whereas before she was very quiet and reticent about speaking up. She is still very shy and will not speak in the presence of strangers, and still will not repeat things back to us very much. Grace is a very sensitive soul and still does not like to be the center of attention. She loves sporty things and is always trying to toss a ball or wrestle with me! I’m positive she will be an athlete. She has enough appreciation for girly things that she likes clothes and purses and “playing mommy.” She is a very rambunctious 2 year old and will be 3 in January.

Cassie is the love bug in our family! She turned 1 this August, and is the girly girl. Every time we go out, she is so taken with girly things like clothes and jewelry, more so than Grace is. She began walking this summer and is getting into everything now. In contrast to Grace, she wants every eye on her! I’m convinced she will be the diva of the family!

Tricia and I will have been married 5 years next June. We are hoping to finally be able to celebrate our anniversary with a solo trip, but we will see what circumstances dictate. We have much growing to do together as we continue to deepen our commitment to each other. I cannot imagine being with anyone else, nor would I want to be. I understand today what Adam meant by “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!”

As of right now, there are no immediate plans to have more children. We are leaving this up to the Lord and His timing. We would like to have a boy or two (to balance out the estrogen in our house), so I can tell you there will definitely be more children at some point. We would like to wait a bit and let our girls grow up a little bit, so that way we are not raising a baby with other babies, but instead have two sets of helping hands in Grace and Cassie. So the earliest we might plan to have children again would be next fall (Cassie will be 2). But we are depending on God’s timing and not ours to determine our next child. God willing, we will have several of our own, and at some point in the future we would like to adopt a Deaf child!

Job
I decided last winter that I was fed up with where I was in the job department. 3rd shift has left me quite cranky most days and some days I have to remind myself not to be short with my wife and children. In addition, being bi-vocational is not financially beneficial for most Deaf pastors. I work part-time for our church and part time for UPS, and honestly our finances are not where they need to be. The majority of Deaf churches, ours included, are unable to pay a full-time salary; and while UPS is basically paying our bills, it is still not enough that we are not stretching every paycheck. I believe that wisdom requires me, as a husband and father, to put myself in the best position possible to provide financially, emotionally, and spiritually for my family. This means I need full-time secular or ministry work.

I began looking for promotion from front-line management (a part-time position) at UPS two years ago, and the majority of full-time positions open to me were for those who have a business related degree, which I do not have. So with the counsel of my superiors at UPS and lots of prayer, I decided to return to college to procure a business degree. I have just completed my first semester at the University of Louisville and will be looking to formally transfer into the business school there this spring. The goal is to either receive a promotion to a full-time position at UPS or be able to leave UPS for a full-time position elsewhere. That will allow me to provide for my family and remove reliance on my income as a pastor at Louisville Baptist Deaf Church.

Why not look for full-time ministry work? Partly because there are few full-time Deaf ministry jobs out there. None that I personally know of. As I mentioned, the majority of Deaf churches (I’d wager 99%) are unable to provide a full-time salary for their pastors, and most Deaf pastors I know are bi-vocational. If I were to leave our church, I would have to know for certain that there was another job available for me wherever we went. As it is, I believe in long-term commitment to one’s place of service, and I am committed to LBDC, not seeking to leave, until such time as the Lord makes it clear I am to leave. Further, I am in a place where I am learning from one of the foremost Deaf pastors in America (30+ years of experience), and you can’t beat that!

Ministry
I have now been at Louisville Baptist Deaf Church as Associate Pastor for 6 years, and involved in the ministry of the church for 10. In that time we have attempted a Deaf church plant, weathered many assaults by Satan on the church generally and on the pastors personally (including very hurtful attacks on me which God used to grow me as a pastor and mature me), moved to a new location at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and begun the process of church revitalization. I have learned so much from our senior pastor Tim Bender and look forward to learning more over the next few years, Lord willing. It is truly a blessing to be able to serve with and learn from a pastor with such a long career of faithfulness to God and His church!

I have been networking quite furiously over the past two years, with the advent of Twitter and popularity of Facebook. I have been able to keep up with many seminary friends and make new ministry friends through these avenues. We have learned much from each other and grown together, and I have been privileged to meet many of these contacts and make new friends through events such as Together for the Gospel and the Southern Baptist Convention. It has been my stated goal to bring awareness of Deaf ministry to the hearing ministry world, and I believe the Lord has opened many doors through this networking experience. I do believe I need to learn to better utilize Twitter and Facebook towards these ends, as the temptation quickly arises to use them for personal entertainment. Not that this is a bad thing, but it can become the be-all and end-all, personal entertainment!

This coming March, I will be attending the 9 Marks Weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. I have told people I will be doing some consulting while there as well as taking the opportunity to get a fantastic learning experience in an intense training weekend. I will have the opportunity to talk with people about Deaf ministry, and I will be using the things I learn at the Weekender and attempting to apply them to a Deaf context. I am also hoping, time permitting, to be able to make contacts at Gallaudet University while I am in Washington. I would like to ask you to pray for this opportunity.

In 2011, I will have the opportunity to preach 5 months out of the year as Pastor Tim and I have worked out our preaching schedule. I will be preaching January, June through August, and November. I am currently praying about what to study for preaching. I am for certain going to preach through one or two books of Scripture, likely an epistle, and spend one or both of the single months preaching on an issue. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to lead me to the Scriptures and issues our church needs addressed.

This preaching schedule will allow Tim to focus on missions work during those months, as he is an officer in the World Congress of Deaf Baptists; and our church along with the Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf supports a Deaf Bible School and church in the Ukraine, and Tim works personally with the pastor and is taking at least two trips a year there. I have been invited to go this year (2011) but do not yet know if I will be able to go.

I am also enjoying my final year as president of Kentucky Baptist Conference of the Deaf. First elected in 2009, I was re-elected this year. It has been a learning experience, as many of our officers (including me) were first time officers and we have had to learn and grow together. It has been encouraging to me to see 2 new Deaf works begin in Kentucky. I am hopeful for the future of Deaf work in this state and in the nation. I will not be president nor in any officer position next year, but I am confident in those Deaf people in leadership today. Perhaps in the future the Lord will allow me to be in leadership again.

School
As I mentioned, I have just completed my first semester at the University of Louisville. I am taking classes to allow myself to enter the business school there. I finished my first semester with a 3.01 GPA that really should have been higher (3.3 to be exact), but I took an Economics class with a very tough professor with a strange grading system I have never seen before. With a conventional grading system I would have had a B- in the class, but under this odd system instead I got a C, which brought my tally to 2 As, an A-, and the C. As it is, this is enough to transfer into the business school (it requires 3.0), so I will be meeting with an advisor this spring semester to see what I need to do.

This spring I will be taking a full-time load at 14 hours. Now that I have gotten my brain back into a student mode, I anticipate being able to do well in every class. I am using sign language interpreters for the first time ever, and I can tell you that given some of the class sizes I am thankful I opted to have interpreters this time around. I’m used to having small classes where I can sit right in front of the profs, the profs know me, and I’m able to get everything I need. But at Louisville you can have over 100 people in a class, you sit in an auditorium, and you can’t catch everything the professor says! I can’t express enough how much I love interpreters after this semester!

Future
We will be moving this June when our lease is up. We moved last year after receiving notice that our rent was going up, and putting it a little out of our budget. We had little notice of this – our lease was to be up one month after receiving notice, so we had little time in which to find another apartment and move. This move turned out to be a bad one – our new apartment was smaller than we thought it was going to be, we have had lots of problems with pests, maintenance, and parking, and the move actually cost us more money long-term than moving was supposed to save us. We should have stayed where we were and reworked our budget.

But we have decided not to stay in this place any longer than necessary, so beginning in January we will begin looking for either a house or 3-bedroom apartment to rent, preferably a house. With our girls getting bigger and more active, they need to be able to go outside to play instead of being inside most of the time. This will also allow us to stay home instead of taking the girls out to get them out of the house, saving us gas money! We are hoping that the Lord will provide us with a place that is within our budget and make the move financially possible. Please pray for this.

I will be praying for the Lord’s direction regarding my employment. I would like to remain at UPS, but I am praying for doors to open for a different placement. Perhaps moving to a different department, especially as I do more coursework in the business school. Perhaps a full-time opportunity will come along. Perhaps God will offer me a change of scenery and lead me away from UPS. Perhaps God will even provide full-time ministry work! I am content to remain where I am and work the plans I have before me until God shows me His will.

I will be praying as well for the direction of our church. With our move we have seen immediate benefit. Our attendance has grown. We are hoping our members’ commitment, discipleship, and evangelism will grow as well. Our girls are now excited to go to church since there are other children at Bethlehem Baptist. Grace gets mad if we don’t take her to church every Sunday and Wednesday! I mentioned before that we are in the process of church revitalization – we will be praying over this process as well. We developed a new church mission statement and voted to keep our name instead of renaming LBDC. We are working on discipleship and changing our culture from passive to active. I also need to change my mindset to one that is active instead of reactive in order to model this to our people. Please be in prayer for the presence and leadership of the Holy Spirit as we do this.

Well, that is the update in 2500 words. I pray this finds you enjoying your holiday!

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The Resurrection and the Life!

Video courtesy of Hyper Pixels Media YouTube page.

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Announcing: Band of Bloggers 2010!

March 3, 2010 1 comment

It is with great pleasure that I help to get the word out about Band of Bloggers 2010 in conjunction with Together for the Gospel 2010! I am looking forward to another great meeting of fellowship, encouragement and exhortation!

…and, of course, more free books. But don’t tell Tricia that just yet. 😉

If you are going to T4G this year, and you are a blogger, please consider attending BoB2010 and come fellowship with us!

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