Saturday, May 12, 2012

To A Thousand Generations by Douglas Wilson - A Baptist Response

Last year I read a few books on the subject of baptism. Two were recommended. One was Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright. I was more than happy to read this book for a couple of reasons: 1) I thoroughly enjoyed another book in the NAC Studies in Bible and Theology series on the indwelling Spirit, and 2) I had enjoyed another book co-authored by Thomas Shreiner and AB Caneday on warning passages in scripture.
The other book was To A Thousand Generations, infant baptism - covenant mercy for the people of God, by Douglas Wilson. This book was recommended by a paedobaptist friend. I expressed my reservation about reading anything from Federal Vision folks like Wilson. But, my paedo friend assured me that the book did not contain any hint of Federal Vision theology. So, I agreed to give it a fair read.
First, I will say that my friend's claim may not be entirely correct. The book does reflect some teaching on the objectivity of the covenant which seems to be a distinctive of Federal Vision. (p. 44, and 50) That covenant objectivity is contained in the subtitle of Wilson's book on Federal Vision, Reformed Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant. It is this covenant objectivity which distinguishes Federal Vision from other forms of Covenant Theology.
In the introduction of To A Thousand Generations Douglas Wilson states, "The goal of this small book is to demonstrate to evangelical baptists [sic] that infant baptism is biblically necessary, and such a task requires an approach that begins with shared or indisputable premises... One of the problems in the entire debate over baptism has been the natural mistake of deriving the doctrine of the covenant from our doctrine of baptism, instead of beginning with the doctrine of the covenant, and then proceeding to discuss baptism." (p. 11)
Right from the start it seems one must assume the presuppositions of Covenant Theology in order to get to infant baptism. And the author dives right in when he exchanges biblical terms for terms which suit his Covenant Theology presuppositions. On page 9 he substitutes the term 'Levitical administration' for the the biblical term 'Old Covenant,' and insists on calling these administrations rather than covenants. This pattern is carried through the rest of the book. This substitution is especially numerous in chapter 2.
Wilson explains his reason for doing so in the beginning of chapter 2:
Based on scripture, Wilson states, "It is therefore proper to use the phrase Old Covenant in reference to the Levitical system of worship given to Moses." But he then goes on to say, of the scriptural phrase, "At the same time, there are great dangers; much of our understanding of the content of the phrase comes not from a careful exegesis of these two passages [2 Cor. 3:14 & He. 8:13], but rather from the supposed and assumed antithesis it represents with the more common phrase New Covenant. Our common use of it therefore tends to obscure more than it reveals." (p. 21)
Throughout chapter 2 he makes the same substitutions of Levitical administration in place of Old Covenant repeatedly to accommodate his Covenant Theology.
These premises, an asumed Covenant Theology, are not shared by his intended audience I believe, nor are they indisputable. In my view, as well as that of other Baptists, Covenant Theology tends to flatten out the Old Covenant and the New Covenant so that they are barely distinguishable in ways that scripture teaches that they are distinct. One of these areas is the subject under discussion.
The thing is that I can see where the Covenant Theologian is coming from. He has this mindset and in many cases he cannot see anything else. This is the way it often is with the dual aspect of the covenant - i.e. that all believers and their children belong to the New Covenant. The Covenant Theologian looks at the church building and its membership and says, "See, the true Israel of God, or the New Covenant community, which contains reprobate and elect members alike." What he often refuses to see, or can't see, is that many of us see that scripture teaches that the New Covenant is a spiritual covenant made up of the regenerate and only the regenerate - lively stones being fitted together. So, we often end up talking past one another in fruitless discussions.
I can appreciate my paedobaptist brother's and sister's views and where they come from, but I disagree with these views very much. In the end, I think Douglas Wilson has only succeeded in reaching his fellow paedobaptists who share his Covenant Theology mindset contrary to his stated objective of convincing Baptists.


  1. Great brother! I am also a former paedobatist and Christian Reconstructionist before. It is John's Gospel and Paul's Galatians that took out my blinders.