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Ligonier National Conference: Q & A from 1997

*For some reason this post gets hit really offer via google searches. I've decided to add some more detailed evaluation of this Ligonier Q&A.*

The Original:

As many of you know, I will be attending Ligonier's National Conference this month. I'm very excited and have determined to listen to as many of the past Q & A sessions from past conferences. I am sure someone will think I am exaggerating but what follows is possibly the best 50 mins of theological discussion I have ever heard.

This conference was focused on the essential truths of the church. Funny enough a majority of the topics are Doctrines of Grace (Calvinism) related. But the introduction lectures were concerning baptism. For the purpose of fully enjoying the Q & A session I would recommend listening to Alistair Begg defend "Believer's Baptism" and R.C. Sproul defend "Infant Baptism".

Before listening to the actual Q & A time I must explain why this session was so meaningful to me. First, Sproul and his ministry have been huge in my acceptance of Covenant Theology, infant baptism, preterism and postmillennialism. Now I don't agree with everything Sproul says nor is he the best source of teaching on all these topics. But he granted me gentle introductions that got me where I am.

Second, there are few, and I'm not really sure any, Baptists that I respected more than Alistair Begg. Coming from a Puritan framework and being a Scot at heart, it is hard to dislike the honest practicality that he brings to his teaching. Very rarely does he enter into such strict theological discussions or debate. Here he opens himself up to do both in relatively "hostile" waters.

And finally, these two friends are down right brutal with each other in this session. Neither is disrespectful but both are honest about their feelings for the other's view. There is a somberness to the Q & A and a heated element to it that I've rarely heard from either of these men. Of course in the end I side with Sproul and the historical practice of infant baptism. But the long dormant baptist in me wishes I could support Begg after his wonderful spirit during the prodding of Sproul.

So without further ado, you can listen to the full Q & A session here. Enjoy.

Here is some new stuff with a helpful timeline format.

(0:00-9:50) Q1: Why are women baptized if the relationship between circumcision & baptism is true?

  • This questions continues to confuse me as it does RC. There seems to be a fundamental issue with recognizing the circular logic associated in this area. God commanded only men to receive the sign in the Old Covenant. God commanded all disciples to be baptized.
  • Since everyone agrees with the previous point they seem to think the discontinuity of the covenants is somehow a problem to the paedo perspective. If both are signs of the covenant than they should be applied to whomever God commands to receive the sign. There is no logical reason why the exclusion of girls in the old covenant even remotely is relevant to the subject of paedobaptism.
  • Now Begg offers some valuable insight about the continuation of the covenant sign needing to be argued for because it is not explicitly taught. This is a funny statement because this is exactly what dispensationalists argue with respect to the church being the spiritual fulfillment of Israel. I would argue "humbly" that the credobaptist perspective that believe the church is the fulfillment of Israel need only return to those particular passages (that prove their paradigm) to prove the covenant sign continuation alongside the covenant people continuation.
  • The arguments from silence are again part of the circular logic. Begg is looking for a specific statement for baptism because it would be a change in the continuation from his perspective. Historically and culturally though we know that to not include the children would have been the standout. And we don't see this cultural norm spoken out against. The argument from silence defeats Begg not baptism.

(9:51-21:34) Q2: Is it detrimental to not baptize a child? At what ages should children be baptized in conjunction with adult conversion?

  • RC kicks a dead horse here. No one has ever argued that child dedication is Biblical. Baptist churches have clearly tacked it on as a nice gesture and a supplemental experience (much like re-dedications, etc.). I find RC's argument for the cutoff age as reasonable.
  • It is enjoyable to hear RC and Begg agree that fundamentally the two sides don't agree on what baptism is. And this is why they don't agree on how to apply it. Begg does not believe his children are impoverished by lacking the sign. He claims that only "strong views" on infant baptism would disagree. Well I certainly disagree and would also fall under the nomenclature of "strong views" but he is fundamentally wrong all views would attest this and Sproul's response clearly shocks him.

(21:35-28:16) 1 Cor 7: Not a question but a huge change in the discussion

  • The principal of family solidarity is part and parcel of the preconceptions of the culture in which the Scriptures were written. Sproul's question to Begg is valuable. If the mere exposure to "Godly influence" is what marks them as "holy or unclean" then what's to stop us from saying the world is holy because it interacts with the church? The concept proves to much, affirms to little and really demonstrates the foundational presuppositions that support both viewpoints.
  • Begg is right that he doesn't have to accept Sproul's definition or argument for family solidarity but he doesn't give us an answer that would be directly known in Paul's culture. He is projecting into Paul a certain set of logical conclusions that Paul neither asserts or alludes to. Sproul jumps on this and proves that the text doesn't allude to influence but definitive effect of holiness.

(28:17-31:26) Q3: How does this connect to Passover and the Lord's Supper?

  • I am in favor of paedocommunion. But I don't think it is a necessary conclusion of covenant theology. It is just the proper result. :-)  Sproul is sensitive on the issue because Sproul Jr is in favor of paedocommunion. Allusions to 1 Cor 11 are pretty sketchy and arguments can be found here.

(31:27-44:55) Q4: General thoughts on rebaptism?

  • I am in agreement with RC on all of this. He correctly brings to the ground level Begg's need for a "legitimate baptism" which undermines God's (covenant) promise.
  • Sproul is all over the existential need to experience baptism. This is a modernist issue. This type of discussion would never have occurred prior to 200 years ago. 
  • The question of "valid baptism" is appropriate and important. Love all of RC's answer on this. I too affirm RCC baptism.

The concluding questions deals with what the best arguments for side are. I think both men are honest. Nothing new was said in the presentations or discussion that hasn't been said before. No invention went on this day just good dialogue. 

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