Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Reformed Baptists Archive



July 2010



Covenantal Credobaptism

Written by , Posted in Books, History, SBC, Theology

I mentioned in my recent series “Can Baptists be Reformed?” that many Baptists, including many Calvinistic Baptists, reject covenant theology because they view it as incompatible with credobaptism (see here, here, and here). But a number of Reformed Baptists, both of the formal and informal kind, have argued otherwise. In fact, many Baptists argue that credobaptism is more consistent with covenant theology than pedobaptism.

The most accessible introduction to this topic was written by my new Southeastern Seminary colleague Greg Welty. It is titled “A Critical Evaluation of Paedobaptism” and is available both online and as a booklet. Stan Reeves also has a helpful webpage titled “FAQ on the Reformed Baptist View of Baptism.” 

The most important work on this topic, though one influenced in some ways by neo-orthodoxy, is Paul Jewett’s Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace (Eerdmans, 1978). Two other helpful books on this topic have been written by Southern Baptist pastor-theologians. See Fred Malone’s The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism, rev. and expanded ed. (Founders Press, 2008), and Brian Russell, Baptism: Sign and Seal of the Covenant of Grace (Banner of Truth, 2002); the latter is currently out-of-print but can be purchased used from several different websites. A more succinct and popular version of Malone’s arguments are available on the Founder’s website under the title A String of Pearls Unstrung: A Theological Journey into Believer’s Baptism.

There are some other resources that I’ve never read. David Kingdon’s out-of-print Children of Abraham: A Reformed Baptist View of Baptism, the Covenant, and Children (Carey Press, 1973) is considered a classic work on this topic. Reformed Baptist Academic Press has published at least two recent books on this topic: Alan Conner’s Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual? and a new book by Gary Crampton titled From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism.

For the truly intrepid, there are some older treatments of this topic. See Nehemiah Coxe’s Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ (reprinted by Reformed Baptist Academic Press), R. B. C. Howell’s The Covenants (available online through Founders Ministries), and John Tombes’ A Short Catechism about Baptism (1659).

As a related aside, In my series on Reformed Baptists I mentioned the theological system called New Covenant Theology. My friend Benji Ramsaur is one of the most able proponents of this view that I’ve met among Southern Baptists. He recently wrote a post titled “What in the World is New Covenant Theology?” for SBC Impact. Benji would differ with all of the above-mentioned resources and would tell you the best treatment of covenant and baptism is Steve Wellum’s chapter “Baptism and the Relationship between the Covenants” in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (B&H Academic, 2006).



July 2010



Can Baptists Be Reformed? Part 3

Written by , Posted in History, SBC, Theology

This post concludes a three part series discussing the question “Can Baptists be Reformed?” The first post noted that many Calvinistic Baptists are comfortable with the Reformed label, while the second post mentioned other Calvinistic Baptists who are less sanguine about the word Reformed. In this final post, I offer my own thoughts on this question. There are several matters to consider.

First, no matter how we answer the question it is a fact that hundreds of Baptist churches claim to be Reformed. So at the level of self-identification at least, there absolutely are Reformed Baptists—indeed, entire associations and networks of them. This has been the case since at least the 1960s. Furthermore, many self-designated Reformed Baptists (like those in ARBCA) would argue that one must affirm some central doctrines in order to properly be called a Reformed Baptist. These include a Calvinistic view of salvation, a combination of baptistic ecclesiology coupled with covenant theology, the regulative principle of worship, and in most cases a Puritan view of the Lord’s Day. This would of course indicate they believe you can be a Calvinistic Baptist and not be Reformed, which is a different question than whether a Calvinistic Baptist can be Reformed.

Second, it is important to understand that most Calvinistic Baptists who use the Reformed label probably mean something less than self-designated, “capital-R” Reformed Baptists. Most of the Baptists I know who call themselves Reformed simply mean that they hold to the “five points.” In other words, they are speaking exclusively of a Reformed soteriology (view of salvation) and not other historically Reformed doctrines and emphases. So if one narrows the definition of Reformed to the “five points,” then not only can Baptists be Reformed, but there are lots of them that are and their numbers are clearly growing, including in the Southern Baptist Convention.

For what it’s worth, I personally think the above approach encompasses too broad a definition of Reformed, though I understand why others disagree. Nevertheless, for historical reasons, I think the term Reformed includes more than approbation of the “five points,” so I agree with both self-designated Reformed Baptists and Reformed pedobaptists that agreeing with Dort is not enough. Many (probably most) Calvinistic Baptists are not Reformed, no matter what terminology they use. But this still leaves us with our original question: Can Baptists be Reformed? I think the answer is both yes and no, depending upon what you mean by Reformed. (How’s that for equivocation?)

Yes, a Baptist church can be Reformed. As stated above, there have been self-designated Reformed Baptists for at least fifty years. They have official associations and networks and host periodic meetings and conferences. They embrace specific distinctives and practices that are articulated in a particular document, the Second London Confession. Furthermore, there are lots of other churches that do not affiliate with the Reformed Baptists in the formal sense, but who hold to the same distinctives and enjoy fraternal relations with Reformed Baptists. Many of the latter are Southern Baptist churches, though there are also SBC churches (and individuals) that more formally cooperate with Reformed Baptists.

Furthermore, there are also Baptist churches that do not self-designate themselves as Reformed Baptists, but they hold to the same faith and practice as those churches that do identify themselves as Reformed. We might call these churches (and individuals) “informal” Reformed Baptists, to distinguish them from self-designated Reformed Baptists. There are many Southern Baptists that would be in this camp. In fact, I would be comfortable calling myself an informal Reformed Baptist because I am in substantial theological agreement with “capital-R” Reformed Baptists.  (The sole exception is that I reject the Puritan view of the Lord’s Day, a position that differs from the Second London Confession and thus differs from most self-confessed Reformed Baptists.)

No, a Baptist church cannot be Reformed.  What I mean is that a Baptist church cannot be Reformed in exactly the same way that a Presbyterian or Dutch Reformed church can be Reformed. Reformed Baptists admittedly do not hold to the same ecclesiological convictions as the mainstream Reformed tradition, as has been ably argued by Reformed pedobaptist scholars. It is fair to say, from a historical standpoint, that Reformed Baptists are not Reformed in the fully historic sense of the term because they embrace a Free Church ecclesiology and credobaptism. If there were to be a contest to demonstrate which side can “out-Reform” the other (in terms of embracing historic Reformed distinctives), and if history were the judge, the pedobaptists would win, no question.

But I think Reformed Baptists recognize the above tension. Reformed Baptists agree that each word of their name qualifies the other. They are Baptist, but not like many other Baptists. They are Reformed, but not in exactly the same ways as other Reformed Christians. We might think of it this way: Reformed Baptists are Reformed, but with a Baptist twist. And every Reformed Baptist (and Reformed credobaptist!) knows that the twist is what makes this whole discussion so interesting.

Many Reformed pedobaptists may have qualms with the idea of a Reformed Baptist. And many Baptists who in principle reject certain Reformed distinctives may ditto those qualms (including many Calvinistic Baptists). But neither of these positions changes the fact that, if defined theologically, there are many Baptists who embrace Reformed distinctives less pedobaptism and a hierarchical or connectional ecclesiology. They have an established confessional tradition and a history that dates to three centuries before the name Reformed Baptist came into vogue a couple of generations ago. They launched the modern mission movement in the English-speaking world and established themselves as the dominant Baptist movement in North America. They influenced the confessional tradition among virtually all non-Arminian Baptists and advocated theological education for those who were shut out from the system by tradition or opportunity. And after a few generations in the wilderness, they are experiencing a comeback, both in their formal and informal manifestations–which, by the way, is why this discussion keeps coming up!



July 2010



Can Baptists Be Reformed? Part 2

Written by , Posted in History, SBC, Theology

As I mentioned in my previous post, this series has been sparked by Les Puryear’s recent post “Can One Be Reformed and Southern Baptist at the Same Time?” and the responses it has provoked. Though I didn’t mention this in my first post, one of the interesting aspects of this debate is that Puryear affirms the “five points” of Calvinism, but he eschews the Reformed label. And he’s not alone. While some have argued that the term Reformed is bandied about far too often, there are lots of Calvinistic Baptists who, like Les Puryear, reject the label. They fall into several categories.

The Sovereign Grace Baptists, not to be confused with C. J. Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace Ministries, were the first Calvinistic caucus within the SBC of which I am aware. Among the better-known Sovereign Grace Baptists were evangelists Rolfe Barnard and Kentucky pastor Henry Mahan; the latter’s church in Ashland hosted an annual Bible conference that promoted Calvinistic theology. The Sovereign Grace folks held to the “five points,” but many of them rejected covenant theology and a Puritan view of the Lord’s Day. Many of them were dispensational in their eschatology and exhibited Landmark tendencies in their ecclesiology. They also tended to cooperate more with Independent Baptist fundamentalists than most other Southern Baptists. Their legacy continues on today among several networks and associations, including a group of African American Calvinistic Baptist churches. Some Sovereign Grace Baptists have also gravitated toward the following movement.

Another Calvinistic Baptist group arose from within the self-designated Reformed Baptist movement and articulate a system they call New Covenant Theology. The New Covenant folks also adhere to the “five points,” but their hermeneutic is an effort to bridge the gap between traditional dispensational and covenant theologies. They tend to prefer the First London Confession over the Second London Confession, believing that the latter is too influenced by Reformed pedobaptism. Although they argue it is not the central tenet of their system, the New Covenant movement is probably best known for rejecting the Puritan view of the Lord’s Day, which is a reflection of their particular view of the role of the law under the new covenant. While there are self-confessed New Covenant theologians, conferences, and networks of churches, this movement has gained some traction among mainstream evangelicals through scholars whose views have some affinity with New Covenant Theology, but who don’t formally identify with the movement.

A final group of Calvinistic Baptists that rejects the Reformed label isn’t so much a formal movement as it is a tendency among some Baptist churches. For lack of a better phrase, I call them “John MacArthur Baptists.” John MacArthur is of course a prominent pastor-theologian who teaches both the “five points” and dispensationalism. Strictly speaking, MacArthur isn’t a Baptist, though his church is credobaptist. Because of his influence, there are many self-designated Baptists that embrace MacArthur’s Calvinistic dispensationalism. There are also some dispensational Calvinistic Baptists who picked up these emphases through the influence of certain current and former professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. One of the largest Baptist churches in this part of North Carolina is an Independent Baptist congregation that I would place in this stream.

So there are many Calvinistic Baptists, including some Southern Baptists, who embrace the “five points” but reject the Reformed label. Many of these churches have qualms with other historically Calvinist ideas such as covenant theology, the regulative principle of worship, and a Puritan view of the Lord’s Day. Having established there are Calvinistic Baptists who would answer the question “Can Baptists be Reformed?” in different ways, in my final post I will conclude this series with my own perspective on the question.



July 2010



Can Baptists Be Reformed? Part 1

Written by , Posted in History, SBC, Theology

A couple of weeks ago, some friends told me about an interesting blog post by Les Puryear titled “Can One Be Reformed and Southern Baptist at the Same Time?” Puryear argues that the “Reformed” label is inappropriate in a Southern Baptist context. I learned yesterday that Matt Svoboda (among others) responded to Puryear’s initial post by arguing that Southern Baptists can indeed be Reformed. He accused Puryear of “using a Presbyterian definition rather than a ‘Reformed Baptist’ definition.” In researching for this post, I discovered that Puryear is now writing a whole series of blog articles on what he perceives as differences between Reformed churches and Southern Baptist churches.

Some readers may know that this is not a new debate, but rather is one that gets resurrected every few months in the blogosphere and on the message boards. It is also not a debate that is limited to Southern Baptists. Some Reformed pedobaptist scholars take umbrage with the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement, popularized in Collin Hansen’s article and book on the topic. Men like Scott Clark, Michael Horton, and Darryl Hart raise concerns that Hansen, and the movement he writes about, play fast-and-loose with the Reformed label. Following the lead of Reformed pedobaptist historical theologian Richard Muller, they argue that adhering to the “five points” of Calvinism is only part of what it means to be Reformed. Specifically, these men argue that covenant theology, covenantal pedobaptism, the regulative principle of worship, and a certain type of piety are inherent to the Reformed tradition. So by their understanding, many of the Young, Restless, and Reformed types—and for that matter all Calvinistic credobaptists—are not really Reformed.

Of course this issue is being debated precisely because there are lots of Southern Baptists who do consider themselves Reformed. As Svoboda’s aforementioned post notes, many Southern Baptists are comfortable with this descriptor. For example, my friend Justin Nale argues for the existence of Reformed Southern Baptists in a follow-up post to Svoboda’s piece. Though I’m not sure how to prove it, I would suspect that many (though not all) who identify with Founders Ministries would be very comfortable calling themselves Reformed.  Besides Southern Baptists, there are other credobaptist evangelicals who consider themselves Reformed, including many Evangelical Free folks, the Sovereign Grace movement, Acts 29, and many non-denominational churches. Some within these groups, like Acts 29’s Mark Driscoll, call themselves Reformed but don’t affirm the Dortian articulation of limited atonement.

Perhaps most important for this debate, there are hundreds of churches that self-identify as Reformed Baptist. Most of these churches are not Southern Baptist, though some are. While Reformed Baptists appreciate several historic Baptist confessions, it seems that most of them strongly prefer the Second London Confession, a statement that combines a baptistic ecclesiology with not only the “five points” but also covenant theology, the regulative principle of worship, and a “Puritan” understanding of the Lord’s Day. Jim Savastio, pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville, KY, has authored a paper titled “What is a Reformed Baptist Church?” that serves as a helpful introduction to what I call the “capital-R” Reformed Baptist movement. Another helpful resource is the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog. The most well-known group (among many) of self-designated Reformed Baptists is probably the Association of Reformed Baptist Church of America; some Southern Baptist churches that affirm the Second London Confession are dually affiliated with ARBCA.

So there are many Calvinistic Baptists, including some Southern Baptists, who do not hesitate to call themselves Reformed. As a general rule, these churches not only embrace the “five points” but they also at least tend toward the baptistic covenant theology, affirmation of the regulative principle of worship, and Puritan view of the Lord’s Day articulated in the Second London Confession and related confessions.