This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Sunday, November 05, 2006

Recent and Forthcoming Essays

The most recent publication of my work is an essay titled "Persevering in Christ and Tests of Eternal Life" in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10:3 (Fall 2006): 40-56. Find the table of contents listed here. Here is the essay's conclusion.

First John is a sustained message that distinguishes “two ways.” One is the way of eternal life; the other is the way of death. John’s purpose in starkly distinguishing these two ways is to encourage believers that we “might know that we have eternal life” (5:13). This assurance, however, does not become ours merely by laying claims to knowing God (2:4) or by professing that we abide in him (2:6) or by asserting that we are in the light (2:9), all claims of having fellowship with God. Nor do we come into possession of this assurance by cerebral logical syllogisms. We know that we have come to know God only in the course of believing, of loving, and of obeying—the three integrated tests that John weaves throughout the three cycles of his pastoral homily (1:5-2:28; 2:29-4:6; 4:7-5:21). The apostle puts these tests before us throughout the spirals of his three cycles, neither to frustrate us nor to call into question the legitimacy of our bold confidence. Rather, he places these tests before us for his stated purpose, that we “might know that we have eternal life.”

Neither John’s tests of “being in God” nor his admonitions to “persevere in Christ” subvert believing, loving, and obeying. Instead, both bolster our believing, our loving, and our obeying. Both his tests and his admonitions remind us afresh of the initial call of the apostolic message that life and light are ours only as we remain in fellowship with God. Knowledge that we have come to know God is ours not by assertion but only by inborn and organic union with God in Christ Jesus. For every believer, this fellowship with God yields invariable and irrevocable consequences both for the present and for the age to come, eternal life.

In January 2007, another of my essays, that touches in significant ways on the biblical teaching concerning perseverance, will be published in Believer's Baptism: The Covenant Sign of the New Age in Christ editors Thomas R. Schreiner & Shawn Wright, Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007. Look for my essay title "Baptism in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement." Find the essay on pages 301 through 346. Here is the introduction to the essay.

“There is one body and one Spirit just as also you were called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4–6). Today, this unity of which the apostle Paul wrote in the first century seems illusory. From the single root of the apostolic faith many branches have emerged. Among these branches the singular aspect that most visibly distinguishes the varieties of multiple ecclesiastical traditions and theological systems seems to be baptism. It is lamentable that the body of Christ is fissured, particularly over this issue.

Yet, from Paul’s questions to the Corinthians, it seems that baptism was partially a source of division even among the earliest Christians, at least in Corinth. Paul asks, “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified on your behalf? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:13). His expression of gratitude that he personally baptized few of the Corinthians confirms that Paul recognizes that some in Corinth are inclined to attribute to baptism a significance that Christ did not give it (1:14–15). To correct their sacerdotal-born factionalism, Paul subordinates baptizing to preaching the gospel (1:17) and makes clear that sacerdotal power resides neither in baptism itself nor in the hands of the baptizer.

Nevertheless, Paul regards baptism as significant and not a bare symbol, for in his letter to Christians in Galatia he declares, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ you have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27). He seems to equate all who have put on Christ with all who are baptized into Christ, as though the two were fused as one. To be baptized into Christ by submission to the symbolic washing called for by the gospel is to be clothed with Christ Jesus. This seems remarkable since this statement appears at the pinnacle of Paul’s argument against Jewish intruders who have attempted to seduce Christians in Galatia to subject themselves to circumcision of the flesh so that they might become Abraham’s children (2:16–3:29, esp. 3:6–7, 29). While Paul warns the Galatians that submission to the ritual act of circumcision would be to sever oneself from Christ (5:2–6), he identifies Christian baptism as the ritual act that marks one as clothed with Christ, and if one belongs to Christ, that one is Abraham’s child (Gal 3:29). Those who are baptized into Christ, not those who are circumcised in the flesh, are Abraham’s children. For him to argue in this manner—appealing to Gentiles not to submit to the rite of circumcision of the flesh but at the same time appealing to their reception of the rite of baptism into Christ—demonstrates that Paul’s contention against the Judaizers is not simply nor primarily over the effectiveness of circumcision.

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul more expressly links receiving Christ’s saving effects with Christian baptism when he says, “Or do you not realize that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We, therefore, were buried with him through baptism into this death with the purpose that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, in the same manner we also might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3–4). As Paul formulates the matter, to be “baptized into Christ Jesus” is to be “baptized into his death.” Thus, “baptism into Christ Jesus” is the means through (dia) which the believer is “buried with him.” This, Paul makes clear when he says, “Thus, we were buried with him through this baptism into death” (sunetapheμmen autou dia tou baptismatos eis ton thanaton). So, it seems that for Paul those baptized into Christ Jesus share in the redeeming effects of Christ’s death.

Given the apostle Paul’s appeal to “as many as were baptized,” it is understandable, then, that as Christians cite the NT as their source of authority for Christian doctrine, they also disagree concerning how to express baptism’s role in relation to salvation. Among Christian denominations, disagreements over baptism persist around four issues: to baptize or not to baptize, how to baptize (immersion, pouring, or sprinkling), whom to baptize (infants or confessors), and the effects of baptizing (ex opere operato [“by the work worked”; baptism actually confers grace], remission of sins, or mere symbolism).

How should Christians go about restoring baptism to its rightful prominence within the church and to an appropriate “baptismal consciousness”? The history of one tradition within the American Protestant stream is punctuated with controversy over this question; the Restoration movement of the Second Great Awakening birthed a movement that has eventuated in the rise of the “churches of Christ,” the Christian Church, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From their earliest days these churches have been suspected of heterodoxy. Such suspicions regarding Restorationism’s most prominent founder, Alexander Campbell, were not without some warrant, as contemporary scholars of the movement (including its adherents, who seek rapprochement with evangelicals), acknowledge. From its beginning, controversy has dogged the movement both from without and from within. There have been internal disagreements over theological formulations concerning baptism and external accusations of embracing and teaching “baptismal regeneration.”

Alexander Campbell and his father Thomas, Scottish Presbyterian immigrants from Ireland, saw themselves as church “reformers” in early nineteenth-century America. They became prominent among several teachers who pled for religious denominations to follow the Bible alone, without any human additions whether in the form of creeds or formulas of faith. Thomas Campbell summarized his noble but overly optimistic reforming maxim as the premise for unification of Christians: “Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.” Their efforts to restore primitive Christianity from sectarian divisions among churches did not escape sectarianism itself, evident not only from the earliest days of the movement but also throughout its history. The rift between Restorationist churches and evangelicals occurred early, when Baptists with whom Alexander and Thomas had associated withdrew fellowship from the “Reformers.” It is fitting, therefore, that a Baptist publication concerning baptism should consider the teachings of Alexander Campbell. It is especially fitting now that many of Campbell’s heirs regularly fellowship with Baptists within the Evangelical Theological Society.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am new to your website. I have read TRSBU (at least twice), and agree with much of it. I am soundly Baptist in my convictions, but as I am deciding my own understanding of salvation, I am trying to develop a response to Vatican II theology. While I know that your field of study is biblical theology, I wonder if you would be willing to answer a systematic theology question. In what ways would you distinguish your position on justification according to works from the Roman Catholic view of justification (through infused grace, one is given the enablement to do the works necessary to be deserving of a declaration of righteousness in the completely not-yet)? You would obviously disagree in many ways with their theology as a whole, but what are the most important ways that you would contrast your soteriology from its? I think that we would agree that the issue of merit is very serious here (your differentiation between “according to works” and “on the basis of works”). The question arises because much of Protestant reaction to the Church's views of salvation that I have read has been written by men that argue from one of the four positions that you critique in your book (particularly the loss-of-rewards view), and one of the key ways that they distinguish their position from the Roman Catholic’s is their retrospective view of salvation, rather than the prospective view that you advocate. A note of interest in light of this question is Zane Hodge's ministerial background (predominately Catholic evangelism) and its influence on the formulation of his theology. Also, I am having trouble finding the passage in TRSBU right now but I remember specifically where you wrote that the warnings were “a vital means” to the salvation of our souls. Because of the indefinite article, it made me think that you may see other means to salvation (persecution, trials, or baptism?) that God uses to accomplish the perfection of his saints. If you could tie your response to this second comment back to the first question as well (the Church’s doctrine of the sacraments as the means of saving grace), that would be great. Thanks in advance for commenting.

A. B. Caneday said...

Daniel,

You have raised insightful and excellent questions. Your reading of TRSBU is clearly quite deep to prompt your questions. I am commend you for giving such careful and deep thought to our book.

Please watch for my response to your questions to be posted as a regular blog entry rather than buried in the comments, here.

MICHAEL said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You
Micky