On my last post, I placed an interlude between my first three pieces dealing with Nathan Finn’s advocacy of the modern moniker, “Reformed Baptist”—a term I dubbed a genuine “oxymoron”--and my final piece summing up why I think it is a mistake for Southern Baptists to describe themselves “Reformed Baptists.” My readers can expect my final piece in the near future.
The present post I feel is more than justified by the, shall we call it, outrage my last piece (the interlude) managed to summons from the depths of Calvinist bloggers. My video parody was, as predicted, a raving hit. Not “hit” in the sense that all those vocally offering their opinion of the video either appreciated its humor or me for having the blasphemous audacity to post such "hate-filled" stuff on a Christian blog.
To the contrary, at last count, there were at least five explicit proclamations that Peter Lumpkins is not saved! Of course, since calling in question my relationship with the Lord Jesus is not a new strategy for many Calvinists—Calvinists especially affiliated with an apologetics ministry in Phoenix, Arizona—I pay little attention to emotionally-driven responses like those.
I do, however, pay lots of attention to legitimate criticisms sincerely offered against a historical statement or theological idea or biblical interpretation I may propose. Albeit many on the comment thread of the video parody I last posted wanted to spar or ”interact” with my “points” as one humorously put it, real discussion can hardly proceed presuming such a wide margin of understanding concerning the viability of the communication medium. In short, if exaggeration is de facto illegitimate as a communication tool—as it obviously is with so many in internet discussions, as it obviously was with so many on the video thread—then it follows parody, as a legitimate communication tool cannot be maintained. If this is so, what would one gain in dialog? From my perspective, not much.
Even so, time and again, I was charged on the thread with not understanding Calvinism or the “Reformed” position. In fact, it appeared at times I was being charged with making things up. Perhaps this comment more than any other sums it up nicely:
“One of the principles that Dr. James White lives by is when you debate or correct someone's position, give them the respect of understanding their position…You sir, obviously have not taken the time to understand reformed theology. The misrepresentations in that video are horrendous. We all deserve better” (all emphasis mine)
While not in these same words, perhaps the overwhelming majority of the comments gave this same impression. Furthermore, the single most abhorrent misunderstanding I allegedly revealed was infant damnation. To read the comments, one gets the impression that the idea that some infants who die in infancy are reprobate, and therefore, bound to eternal destruction, is so foreign to historic Calvinism, that only Hell itself—with Arminianism as its accomplice—could hatch such a despicable thought. Nevertheless, this undiluted, absolute ignorance of one’s own theological heritage nearly takes my breath away.
Know I am not referring to those who have not had the privilege of studying theology, historical theology, church history, or history of Christian thinking, etc. These dear folk are not to be blamed nor mocked.
Rather I am referring to the self-designated “Reformed” internet "teachers" who proudly wear the Calvinist logo. Those who, similar to the gentleman above, maintain, “you, sir, obviously have not taken the time to understand reformed theology.” Those are the ones that cause me to shake my head in astonishment and wonder, “Where do these guys study? What do these guys read? How do these guys come to conclusions resembling a fraction less than patented non-sense?”
So, in light of my adventure I just described, below is a partial assembly of quotations from mainstream Reformed, Calvinist theologians. Also quoted are reputable historians (mostly Reformed in persuasion) who offer valuable estimations of the Calvinistic outlook on Infant Salvation. What is their unified thesis? While there is some debate around the edges, almost in unison, the preeminent position Reformed theologians embraced was the idea that both elect infants and reprobate infants are mingled among those infants who die in infancy.
At first, allow me to mention a helpful essay by Reformed theologian, B.B. Warfield entitled, “The Development of the Doctrine of Infant Salvation” (Works, Vol. 9). A couple of brief but positive aspects of Warfield’s essay: a) Warfield's historical sweep is very helpful, beginning with the early Church Fathers; b) Warfield gives a summary of what Calvinists have historically embraced (five views in all).
Most interesting about Warfield’s essay I quickly noted, however, is, under the section entitled “The Reformed” understanding, Curiously, Warfield focuses his sights on Zwingli (who, by the way, held all infants who die in infancy are elect) and completely ignores John Calvin. In fact, Calvin's view is buried in a footnote in another essay! Why? Luther all but questioned whether Zwingli was saved over the universalism he held on Infant Salvation. But, why didn't Warfield note John Calvin's view of Infant Salvation in his treatise on the development of the doctrine?
Well, let’s begin with Calvin and see (all emphasis mine unless specified).
John Calvin on Infant Salvation
- And the Apostle most distinctly testifies, that “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” (Rom. 5:12); that is, are involved in original sin, and polluted by its stain. Hence, even infants bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt. (Institutes, Book 2, Sec. 8)
- “But how, they ask, are infants regenerated, when not possessing a knowledge of either good or evil? We answer, that the work of God, though beyond the reach of our capacity, is not therefore null. Moreover, infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. For if they bring innate corruption with them from their mother’s womb, they must be purified before they can be admitted into the kingdom of God, into which shall not enter anything that defileth (Rev. 21:27). If they are born sinners, as David and Paul affirm, they must either remain unaccepted and hated by God, or be justified.(Inst. Book 4, Sec. 17)
- And, indeed, Christ was sanctified from earliest infancy, that he might sanctify his elect in himself at any age, without distinction…This, at least, we set down as incontrovertible, that none of the elect is called away from the present life without being previously sanctified and regenerated by the Spirit of God (Inst. Book 4, Sec. 18)
- “As far as relates to young children, they seem to perish not by their own, but for another’s fault; but the solution is twofold; for although sin does not appear in them, yet it is latent, since they carry about with them corruption shut up in their soul, so that they are worthy of condemnation before God (Ezek. Comm. 18:4)
- “We ought, therefore, to hold it as a settled point, that all who are destitute of the grace of God are involved in the sentence of eternal death. Hence it follows, that the children of the reprobate, whom the curse of God pursues, are liable to the same sentence. Isaiah, therefore, does not speak of innocent children, but of flagitious and unprincipled children who perhaps even exceeded their parents in wickedness; in consequence of which they were justly associated with their parents, and subjected to the same punishment, seeing that they have followed the same manner of life…it was with their parents that the rejection began, on account of which they also have been forsaken and rejected by God. Their own guilt is not set aside as if they had been innocent; but, having been involved in the same sins as to reprobation, they are also liable to the same punishments and miseries. (Isa. Comm 14:21)
- “I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknow what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination” (Inst. Book 3, Sec. 23, 7) Of this particular passage, 19th C. Reformed theologian Dr. H. J. Van Dyke says:
"Now let us be candid with ourselves, and even with our opponents. Historic Calvinism does include what Calvin himself calls the horribile decretum, that by the election and predestination of God many nations, with their infant children, are irretrievably doomed to eternal death” (Variations within Calvinism, pp.39-40)
- “If those on whom the Lord has bestowed his election, after receiving the sign of regeneration, depart this life before they become adults, he, by the incomprehensible energy of his Spirit, renews them in the way which he alone sees to be expedient” (Inst. Book 4, Sec. 16, 21)
Other quotes could be added. Others *will* be added. Easily it is shown not only classic Calvinism, but John Calvin himself rigidly held to eternal damnation for those infants dying in infancy who were not “elect.”
Hence, to suggest that somehow the idea of infant reprobation skews “reformed theology” or does not represent it, is itself gross historical ignorance concerning one’s own self-professed theological heritage.
Part II will assemble more sources within classic Reformed thinking which demonstrates our “Reformed” brothers apparently do not read beyond R.C. Sproul, C. J. Mahaney, John Piper, James White, and, of course, the Founders Ministries crew.
With that, I am…