The fourth chapter, by Stephen J. Wellum, is by far the best of the book when it comes to engaging the paedobaptist position in a fair and compelling way. He openly engages the deeper theological issues that were lurking under the surface in the first three chapters, and demonstrates a careful and nuanced understanding of the Reformed position. I want to be very clear, especially since I was so dissatisfied with the first three chapters: I simply could not be happier with Wellum’s contribution.
I won’t summarize most of the Reformed arguments, since I’ve already presented their substance – which Wellum fairly summarizes – in my previous three posts. Wellum argues what Schreiner asserts, that in the new covenant, the church is not a mixed community, but is made up of only truly regenerate believers. In my opinion, Wellum’s line of argument effectively boils the debate down to this point, that the fundamental Reformed error is affirming too much continuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church on this score.
I’ve already presented the main Reformed response: that the New Testament clearly indicates that the church is a mixed community by way of all of its warning passages, especially in Romans, Hebrews, and Revelation. This is a compelling case for continuity with Old Testament Israel, especially since the New Testament writers echo the language of covenant warning found in Deuteronomy. And so it is telling that Wellum simply does not engage this argument. He summarizes it, acknowledges that it is the strongest response to the baptist position, and then dismisses it with so much hand-waving as assuming what needs to be proven – continuity among the covenants. But he seems to miss the structure of the argument. The Reformed argument is that the warning passages in the New Testament are, prima facie, evidence for continuity, a fundamental continuity that places the burden of proof on the Baptist side. This does not assume continuity; it is, rather, a basic argument for it.
God’s ways were clearly revealed for Abraham and Israel: believers and their children are recipients of his covenant grace. Wellum clearly and robustly affirms a basic structure of continuity of the church with Abraham and Israel. And so the question stands: where does the New Testament say that children are no longer included in the covenant?
This will conclude my review of the book. The subsequent chapters are largely intramural discussions, and add little to the debate. I am grateful for the work of all of the contributors, especially that of Stephen Wellum. Though I was disappointed with some of the earlier chapters, I highly recommend the book as a fair and nuanced engagement with a difficult issue.