Longtime readers of the blog may recall a previous post entitled The Three Best Books in Defense of Believer’s Baptism. Well, now The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism by Jeffrey D. Johnson will top that list. In fact, together with Fred Malone’s book The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism, I am not sure a Reformed Baptist needs another work in his library on this subject.
What makes Fatal Flaw so good is that it is a treatment of the subject from within a covenantal framework (in a more thoroughgoing manner than the treatment of Malone). Johnson meticulously details the central issues surrounding the debate between Paedobaptists and Baptists who hold to Covenant Theology. In Part One of the book (which is the bulk of the work), Johnson argues devastatingly against what he calls the “fatal flaw” of the theology behind infant baptism, which he identifies as “this notion that the Mosaic Covenant is a manifestation of the covenant of grace” (p. 69). But he shows that this is itself a failure to understand the dual nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, which is the focus not only of much of his argument in Part One but also the entirety of Part Two of the book, in which Johnson lays out what he calls “Covenantal Dichotomism.” In this section of the book he essentially lays out a Reformed Baptist understanding of Covenant Theology, relying on a clear understanding of Scripture with the help of a few old friends like John Bunyan and Nehemiah Coxe. Here are a couple of quotes dealing with both the continuity and the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants that I hope will give you a feel for Johnson’s basic position:
Although contrasts between them are vast, there is a link connecting them. What is the link? It is Jesus Christ. Christ in his life fulfilled the righteous precepts and demands of the Law of Moses. In His death He fulfilled the curses of the law. By doing these two things, He fulfilled the law of the Mosaic Covenant and established the new covenant. Therefore, it can be said that the new covenant fulfilled the unconditional promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, by means of the Mosaic Covenant of works. (p. 233)
Both the Mosaic and the new covenant were birthed out of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant was established between Abraham and his seed. The Mosaic Covenant was issued with the nation of Israel, which was Abraham’s natural seed. The new covenant, on the other hand, was made with Christ and those who are in union with Him. Thus, the old covenant was issued with Abraham’s natural seed, while the new covenant was issued with Abraham’s spiritual seed.
Although both the Mosaic and the new covenant are extensions of the Abrahamic Covenant, the new covenant is not an extension of the Mosaic Covenant. This is because the Mosaic Covenant was based upon works, while the new covenant is based upon faith. (p. 235)
I should observe here that Johnson appears to agree with the idea (which he briefly interacts with on pp. 53-54 and 104-108) that the Mosaic Covenant should be understood as a republication of the original covenant of works. Perhaps one final quote, focused on his understanding of the the covenant of works, would be helpful:
The point is, throughout history (past, present, and future), the covenant of works and the covenant of grace have coexisted. The covenant of grace was alive during the reign of the Mosaic Covenant of works; and conversely, the covenant of works lives under the reign of the new covenant of grace. Just because the Mosaic Covenant was a manifestation of the covenant of works did not mean that the covenant of grace was inoperative during that time. Every converted Israelite was circumcised in heart by the Holy Spirit and placed into the covenant of grace. In like manner, even though the new covenant has been established and the old covenant has passed away, the covenant of works is still present. It is just as forceful and alive today as it was in the garden. Every sinner born into this world is born into the covenant of works and is condemned beneath its heavy demands. The law is merciless. It does not care if sinners are incapable of obedience. In this way each of these covenants has coexisted throughout the history of redemption. (p. 248)
I agree and am so thankful that Jesus met the demands of the covenant of works so that I might be included in the covenant of grace. Aren’t you?
Here are what a couple of respected Baptist scholars have had to say about the book:
This is an excellent and outstanding work, which deals with the subject from the ground up—one of the best, if not the best, I have ever seen! Jeffrey deals with all the aspects of the subject and in the logical order of their development in the subject area. He presents his position clearly with solid and sound exegesis and clear discussion and argumentation. Thus, he makes a definite and strong contribution to the subject matter of the day concerning the ongoing debate between continuity and discontinuity of the Divine covenants.
— Dr. Richard P. Belcher, retired professor at Columbia International University and pastor at Covenant Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina
Jeffrey Johnson has produced a thorough, vigorous, and impressive interaction with covenant theology as it is used in support of infant baptism. He has given detailed analysis of each part of the system, approved what was biblically warranted, challenged what is indefensibly contrived and offered compelling alternatives to each part of the system that he has challenged. He has not left it at that point but has offered an alternate interpretation of the relationship between the covenants.
— Dr. Thomas J. Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
I add my own voice to those of these men, and I would recommend the book not only for its excellent handling of the debate concerning baptism but also as a good introduction to a Baptist understanding of Covenant Theology.
A Good Deal on the Book
In addition, I want to let you know about a special offer from Richbarry Press. The book normally sells for $16-18, but it is available from Richbarry Press for just $10.00 plus postage. Just contact:
Richbarry Press, c/o Dr. Richard P. Belcher, 105 River Wood Drive, Fort Mill, SC.
Or call 803-396-7962
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org