Are Reformed Baptists dispensational?

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Stephen L Smith, Jun 1, 2017.

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  1. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I remain unconvinced that the Reformed Baptist position is dispensational in any form. Firstly the 1689 Baptist Confession was written about 140 years before dispensationalism was 'invented'. Further a careful read of ch 7 of the 1689 confession will reveal a carefully constructed covenant theology. I was argue that the main difference between ch 7 in the Westminster Confession and the 1689 Baptist Confession is a difference over a historical-grammatical Christian hermeneutical method, rather than the covenant itself. Here is a helpful clarification
  2. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    A helpful article, Stephen. Thanks for linking to it!
  3. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Is this an invitation to discuss the thesis?

    In any event, it seems more accurate to write, "a careful read of ch 7 of the 1689 confession will reveal a carefully reconstructed covenant theology." The 1689 on the whole is a claim by certain English Baptists (later called Particular) to be in considerable agreement with mainstream English Reformed theology as represented by the WCF (1646); hence the deliberate and copious borrowing.

    The development of Covenant theology is a parallel hermeneutical project to the confessional Faith-expressions of Reformed Protestantism. It's covenant-theology along with 125yrs of refining the confession of Christian faith against Rome that makes the WCF the high-water mark that it is.

    The Baptists of late English non-conformity arrived at their conclusions because they had a different hermeneutic from that of the covenant theologians of theirs and of previous generations. It's OK if you believe they finally got it right; but plainly this is a reengineering of classic CT, in order to find the necessary conformity to Baptist convictions.

    Now, there's a completely different historical path that arrives in the 19th century at the origins of what is today generally classified as "dispensationalism." But just as there are affinities between the Baptists and the Reformed (so the borrowing of the modifier "Reformed" in the 20thC, replacing the modifier "Particular"), there are also affinities between the Baptists and the modern dispensationalists (even as we admit early support in the USA for dispensationalism by Presbyterians).

    Perhaps it is not accidental that Presbyterians of a confessional stripe (e.g. Machen) immediately found dispensationalism at odds with the whole Reformed system? Perhaps it is not accidental that DTS quickly became a Baptist institution, and Presbyterianism failed as fruitful ground for dispensationalism?

    The read by the Baptist theologian, of radical discontinuity with the past on account of Christ's NewCovenant inauguration, fits with similar discontinuous treatment of the text of Scripture by the dispensationalist. It is somewhat anachronistic to describe this discontinuity as "dispensational;" but when compared with classic CT hermeneutics, it is descriptive from that standpoint.
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  4. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    There are some good points in this blog post, especially in its argument concerning dispensationalism. There are also some things which are confusing.

    Two different positions claim to follow the federalism of the 1689 Confession. One of them, which we might call Waldron's view, is much closer to the reformed covenant theology of the Westminster Confession. The other, which we might call Denault's view, is clearly different. Which one ought to be considered as "1689 federalism?"

    The blog post makes some historical claims regarding the works principle in connection with Israel and the land, but reformed theologians in general acknowledge a "subservient" works principle. There is no "substantial" difference here.

    Finally, Kline is brought into the picture. He is not going to help the cause. He maintained the historical continuity of the covenant of grace, notwithstanding his idiosyncratic views of intrusion, typology, and the Mosaic covenant.

    Reformed covenant theology teaches one covenant of grace administered differently under the law and the gospel. Holding to this fundamental teaching is what distinguishes it as "covenantal." Rejection of this fundamental teaching marks out a "dispensational" approach. Not all dispensational approaches are dispensationalist in the historical meaning of the term, but they are by definition "dispensational" in contrast to being "covenantal."
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2017
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  5. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    A helpful article as we consider this discussion:

    Note particularly Denault's distinction of the COG in the 1689 understanding as one covenant progressively revealed, rather than one covenant under two administrations. Both RB's and RP's share the deep exegetical conviction of the one COG. We differ in our understanding of how God administrated it in redemptive history, hence, our respective differences in polity.

    Re: the reference to Dr. Waldron, above: we had a thread a while back in which the differences in the Nichols/Waldron modern 1689 view vs. the Denault/Coxe classic 1689 view were contrasted. I'll try to find it and post the link later.
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2017
  6. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    Excuse my ignorance, but is it generally accepted in reformed circles that baptists should be dispensational?
  7. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Luke 22:20 states that the cup that is poured out .. is the new covenant in Christ's blood. Heb 9:15 states that Christ is the mediator of a new covenant. Therefore Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology is consistent. Christ's work of mediation has ramifications - If the new covenant is a covenant in Christ's blood, and Christ is the mdiator of the new covenant, this has ramifications for covenant theology.

    The 1689 confession 7:3 traces the full scop of redemptive history. It starts with Gen 3:15 and progressively moves to the full consumation in the new covenant:
    "This covenant is revealed in the gospel. It was revealed first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation through the seed of the woman. After that, it was revealed step by step until the full revelation of it was completed in the New Testament. This covenant is based on the eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son concerning the redemption of the elect. Only through the grace of this covenant have those saved from among the descendants of fallen Adam obtained life and blessed immortality. Humanity is now utterly incapable of being accepted by God on the same terms on which Adam was accepted in his state of innocence"
  8. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    It is a little more complicated than that but some say this
  9. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Either you are agreeing with me that standard CT is reconstructed for the sake of the 1689; or else you are saying that 1689 is a different theology, yet appropriating the term "covenant theology" is just fine because nobody can ™ the expression. Quoting the LBC 7:3 as if certain limited agreements with standard CT are what makes CT what it is, is a common ground, "mere-Christianity" kind of reductionist claim.

    The first description is honest and clear. The second is confusing, and assertive in a pugnacious way. Some Baptists have been known to say that after they fixed the Reformation, they perfected Reformed theology; and in each case certain ones claimed the historic labels for their movement. Especially the latter robs those of a particular confession, who "owned" the name for four centuries.

    Well, that's the world we occupy now, and I've made peace with it. But now some others want to do the same thing with the label "covenant theology;" and take a 500yr old term with bounded meaning, and stretch that meaning to include and sanction the previously attained squatters-rights. I say it's time for pushback.

    Covenant theology is a descriptive term, five centuries old, for the biblical theology woven into and consistent with the WCF. There are different assumptions, a different method of reading Scripture, and a different understanding of eschatology (and the already-not yet dynamic of this hour) found in CT, from that ordinarily assumed by our Baptist brethren. Find another name for your distinctive hermeneutic.

    I like to describe our relationship to 1689ers as one that finds us all standing on much overlapping and good ground on the heights of theology; but we ascended to this place by very different routes, and the ground we survey is not marked by the same lines. And if we understand this distinction, we will make better neighbors.
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  10. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I would never say Baptists ought to be dispensational. I would say a dispensational hermeneutic finds a home alongside Baptist convictions far more naturally than it does alongside traditional Presbyterian ones. They share important affinities, resulting in notable and lasting alliances.

    There were Baptists long before there was a worked-out and regular dispensational hermeneutic; so those descriptions do not appear to have the same organic and symbiotic interaction as the Reformed Faith does with covenant theology.
  11. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    The confusion seems to be that there are Dispensational Baptists/Reformed. and also Calvinistic ones...
  12. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    You seem to be saying here that there are indeed real and significant differences between how the Reformed baptists and Presbyterian view how we are to understand the scriptures, and draw differing conclusion from those varying viewpoints..

    Do Presbyterians on the see we baptists as holding to a different, not quite Reformed viewpoint in the traditional use of that term?
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  13. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Go back to your post. Select the Edit button below your sig. Fix the portion shown above to make some grammatical sense. The Edit button is your friend. Check your posts after they appear and make changes when you see errors as in the above.
  14. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I can't think of a more reasonable explanation for why Presbyterians and Baptists (the Particular sort) don't agree on those issues that profoundly separate us, than "that there are indeed real and significant differences" in how we interpret the Bible.

    Your question illustrates the problem of using the adjective "Reformed" in an elastic manner. What is a "Reformed viewpoint?" Not everyone belonging to even one Confessional adherence agrees on a great many things; meaning that any "Reformed opinion" of something is limited to those particulars we have agreed upon; otherwise it is merely the opinion of some Reformed man.

    And to try to make something more "the Reformed viewpoint"--for instance: homeschooling vs. public ed., or free-market economics, or a worldwide vs. local Flood--attempts an illegitimate capture of the Reformed flag for one opinion, and the delegitimization of alternate opinions on that subject within the Reformed orbit. (Though an appeal to significant historical consensus should carry great weight).

    It is chiefly a doctrinal question: what is the Christian Faith? It is chiefly an historic question: what is the Reformed Faith?; just as it is also an historic question: what is the Baptist Faith? That is not to say, that in speaking of the Reformed Faith (or Baptist Faith) we are not thinking doctrinally; but that those modifiers are summarizing our theological "viewpoints" in the form of an historical witness, a Confession.

    The Reformed churches may be found historically grounded in several European lands, and co-located in transplants on USA soil. Their principal confessions, the Belgic and the Westminster, bear witness to the basic unanimity of this historic expression. The 1689 witness exists, precisely because it represents specific departures from that basic uniformity; hence it is called the "London Baptist" and not the "London Reformed" Confession. This is laudable honesty.

    Now, when a present-day Baptist wishes to recall his basic affinity with the bulk of the historically Reformed church, he will often use the term, "the Reformed Faith;" but he does not mean "the Reformed Faith as it is Confessed by the Churches." Rather, he typically means something more-or-less like the Acts of the Synod of Dort (the "5-points"). He may further mean: ALL those points of word-for-word agreement between the LBC and the WCF.

    But in any case, his agreement with or definition of "the Reformed Faith" that he believes in is limited to the Reformed Faith so-far-as he consents to its prior terms. And what about infant baptism? Well, that's either NOT the Reformed Faith, or else it is CONTRARY TO the Reformed Faith which he claims is perfected in his Baptist Faith. Likewise, for other matters that pertain to the organization of the church, to covenant theology, and a few others.

    I happily affirm the basic agreements, on very important even vital doctrinal material, between Presbyterians and Baptists. But we do no one any favors by asserting that there is an undefined "Reformed root" that has branched into two expressions: one Presbyterian and one Baptist; and then argue about which one is "true" to the root. That's not the historic reality.
  15. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Thanks, has been done.
  16. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    There seems to be a definite need to have a theology that would bridge these 2 groups, as also think that there are many more Baptists who would hold to a Calvinist viewpoint, but not to a strictly Reformed one, as few seem to hold with full Covenant Theology...
  17. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I would like to put in an apology here. I realised after I posted this that the nature of this topic would probably generate long responses. At present I don't have the energy or health to do so, so will link to some resources which may clarify the 1689 position. There has been a lot of development in this in recent years. If a Reformed Baptist wants to carry on they are most welcome to do so.

    In a nutshell a number of theologians has said that the 1689 Confession 7:3 anticipates the historic redemptive theology of Vos. I agree.

    One of the most useful resources for articulating the development of Reformed Baptist Covenant theology is THE DISTINCTIVENESS OF BAPTIST COVENANT THEOLOGY: Revised Edition.
    See also Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology Edited by Richard C. Barcellos
    There is a lot of useful information at
    Also a helpful discussion of the issues at
  18. Gforce9

    Gforce9 Puritan Board Junior

    The only reason to have "a theology that would bridge these 2 groups" is if said theology were true.
  19. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I don't know what you mean by bridge-theology, but I suppose you might mean: need some way to describe what is conceived as (to use my previous term) a "common root," for those theological elements that are shared with WCF Presbyterians and LBC Baptists.

    But we don't have the same starting point. Sure, we both begin with the Bible; we agree it is the sole source of theological knowledge. But now let's take a specific and highly differentiated example: baptism. Where does one begin formulation of a "theology of baptism?" Do you begin with Matthew ch.3 or Acts ch.2?

    Taking my cue (as I read him) from Peter, his first epistle, ch.3:18ff, I begin with Genesis ch.6. I know of no Baptist theologian beginning there for developing a Christian theology--both the doctrine and the practice--of baptism. Paul (as I read him), 1Corinthians 10:2, says there's a baptism in Exodus ch.14. Every Baptist I've ever read describes Paul as using an OT-situation for an illustrative metaphor as a way of applying the NT-doctrine of baptism.

    That's just one, highly salient example, of the fact that Presbyterians do not read the Bible the same way as our Baptist brethren. Can you name for me one Baptist theologian who begins formulating a theology of baptism somewhere other than the NT? Further, if a Baptist has only the NT documents, can he construct more than 90% of his theological house?

    I'm seriously not asking you this out of any intent to slight the Baptist mind (as I understand it), but rather to grant it those primary assumptions as I understand them. On more than just the theology of baptism, I do not think it is reasonable to expect a Presbyterian to build his theological house using only those materials of NT origin. More than simply a firm and level OT base, there are some girders that extend from the lowest part of the foundation to uphold the roof, as he reads the plans.

    1) Starting point and 2) method have profound implications for the doing of theology. The happy fact is, the Presbyterian and the Baptist both can end up affirming many of the same ends of their respective efforts. But my illustration (used above) was that of attaining the same "summit" of theology, albeit by different routes. This is more accurate, in my judgment, than the idea of a bridge with two spans, upheld by a common principle.
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  20. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Rev Buchanan,
    I think this is an example of where you misunderstand the Reformed Baptist position. The 1689 Confession 7:3 starts with Gen 3:15, not the NT.

    I forgot to add before - I enjoy Vos' essay on covenant theology in his shorter writings. As a Reformed Baptist I can agree on much of how he constructs the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace. The fact that the Triune God covenanted to procure a bride - save them for their sins. There are weighty areas of agreement between Reformed paedobaptists and Reformed baptists. How aspects of this is worked out is where we differ.
  21. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I hardly know of any doctrine of creation or of sin that ignores the origin of either.

    The LBC covenantal expressions (ch.7) with reference to the OT begins and ends at just that Gen3:15 text, and confines NT references to OT persons such as Abraham to the fact they also trusted (had faith) in Christ. There is nothing therein concerning any visible expression of this Covenant of Grace (CoG) in the OT, that expression being entirely referred to the arrival of Christ in the NT. This is not a CoG administered among men by the church for the sake of the faithful down through the OT ages. Such an understanding should be requisite for the name "covenant theology."

    In addition, the LBC eschews any reference to the original Covenant of Works; so in that sense, this form of covenantal understanding does not begin before Gen.3:15, whereas standard CT does. Compare the two documents' (WCF and LBC) ch.7, and the distinction between these two treatments is abundantly obvious.

    The fact remains, there is nothing theologically constructive to the LBC's reference to Gen.3:15. It is only a "placeholder." There is no CoG administration for the remainder of the OT; but only signs and foreshadowing--a pantomime of the CoG. It is only in the New Covenant that the CoG actually comes into view in the Person of Christ; and in terms of its administration remains quite out of the hands of men in this after-age, being presided over by the Holy Spirit alone.

    With all due respect, the RB (LBC) position, no less than most Baptists today, appears to me to begin with Matthew.
  22. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    The comments after the article by Tom Chantry and Rich Barcellos are quite to the point here. The 1689 was revised from the 1644 specifically to demonstrate the vast agreement we have with reformed Presbyterians. Indeed, that reality is the basis for most of our discussion here on PB.

    Though we RB's formulate our covenantalism differently, we are affirming the same theological category as our RP brethren: the one eternal plan of God for the salvation of his elect. Though we apply our respective hermeneutics differently, we are affirming the same effectual nature of the CoG: none of God's elect will be lost. Though we understand its fullness to come in the NC era, its substance is indeed present in the OC (i.e., Jn 8.56). No confessional baptist disputes this. There are multiple references in historic RB literature to this effect, speaking of the Jewish Church, the OT Church, the OC Church, etc. While we do mean it in the spiritual/typological sense, we're not denying its existence the way the dispensationalists do.

    That we arrive at the same destination on the top of the mountain (to borrow Rev. Buchanan's illustration), albeit by different roads, demonstrates that we are in the same family -- sons of the Reformation. That example serves only to strengthen the point that this is a family discussion. We're not climbing different mountains -- affirming differing means of salvation, or affirming some Hagee-like Zionism, though this discussion is making it look like that's all we are.

    I genuinely appreciate the historical significance which our RP friends are attaching to the term "Reformed," but we baptists who apply the moniker to ourselves do so because we are far more than evangelicals who like Calvin's soteriology. We affirm his views on the means of grace, the the spirituality and marks of the church, the nature of God and salvation, etc.; where we differ is simply in their application. We use the terms because we believe it to be historically warranted (particular baptists were born out of Puritanism) and theologically credible (we affirm 95% or more of what our Reformed brethren do). We simple differentiate ourselves as being in the baptistic wing of the Reformation family.

    We're not interested in being historical revisionists, or in crashing anyone else's party. We just want to confess right alongside our Reformed brethren that we are in lockstep with you.

    Time and again here on the PB, we've accepted as sufficient for being Reformed as affirming DOG + CT of whichever stripe + a Reformation confession. We've repeatedly stressed that the Reformers, Puritans, and their offshoots were almost never monolithic in their views. I don't understand why we're changing how we apply that reality now.

    What's changed?

    (I'm writing quickly and have been ill, so I sincerely hope this isn't taken as being combative or confrontational. If that's how my verbiage sounds, please know that such is not my intent; I'm exhausted. I am so thankful for the PB and in particular for the brothers who have posted in this thread. I owe each of you a great debt for how God has used your posts here in my life!)
  23. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I don't begrudge the "Reformed Baptist" moniker; it is a fresh historical designation, but it has now received a the sanction of time. It is part of the lexicon of our subculture.

    Well now, it seems to me that since that negotiation is past, we're moving on. Apparently it's time for those of us who thought we knew what "covenant theology" was, to wake up to the reality that this label too needs to be stretched to accommodate what up to 5 minutes ago was anti covenant theology. What's going on here?

    At what point do we leave language alone, and let our words express distinctions? Can't those guys be content with some term like "Baptist Covenantalism?" Why not? Don't good fences make good neighbors? If I advertise the church I pastor in the paper as a "Baptist church," because we baptize too; and everyone the other Baptist church baptizes we would baptize if they joined our church instead--is there anything wrong with that? We should be the Baptists, because we're doing even more baptizing than they are!

    Of course there is wrongness all over that. I would be guilty of an act of verbal vandalism, accosting the very thing by which the Baptists have distinguished themselves. By playing word-games, I'm counterfeiting; I'm diluting and watering down a precious identification. Worse, I'm excusing it by piously asserting my "rights" to the lingo, history be dumped.

    I think we have a good little thing going here at the PB, not something I want to disrupt. We have our differences, but we respect the broad agreements we have, and tolerate the convictions of others. I don't want to lose that. I appreciate that there is some overlap even in how we emphasize God's covenant-relationship with man.

    But I think the real threat to our harmony does not come from an insistence on the purity of language. "A carefully constructed covenant theology" is, to my ears, a phrase with a challenge built in. "We 1689ers are the REAL covenant theologians with PURIFIED covenant theology. So-called covenant theology: you are on notice."

    My answer was a proposed restatement: "a carefully reconstructed covenant theology," because those words make it plain that unreconstructed covenant theology--original covenant theology--is a very different thing.
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  24. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    There does seem to be some type of sticking on the truth that we as baptists would see ourselves in one sense with our Presbyterian brethren united around our common theology and in Christ, but also can get tricky when we start to factor in those "Baptist distinctives" such as each one able to formulate doctrines from Bible, each church has local autonomy, etc!

    Maybe the problem is that we are extending too far towards seeing us as all being under the same tent, and that we actually as more like side by side?
  25. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Think that what is really needed is first to have a meeting of the minds theologically wise between reformed and Calvinist Baptists, as once we can hammer out a common theology among ourselves as to agreeing what those terms really mean, than can move on to agreement with Our Reformed Presbyterian bethren!
  26. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    I think that his main point though is quite correct, as we Baptists do tend to be basically new testament Theology driven!
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017
  27. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

  28. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    This would appear to have Reformed Baptists then agreeing with the reformed Presbyterian viewpoint that in the ordinances "something" spiritual is actually conferred by God unto us, while Baptists tend to view them symbolic in nature.
  29. BG

    BG Puritan Board Junior

    The key tenant of dispensationalism is the idea that Israel and the church or different .

    Since all Baptist reformed or otherwise see a difference between Israel and the church then of course that makes them dispensational, at least in their ecclesiology.
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