See Tim Give Away the Covenant

If you are in the business of baptizing children, catechizing those same kids, encouraging parents to nurture their children, and if on top of all that you believe that God uses families (at least in a significant way) to build his church, I’m not sure how you can write this:

In China, Africa, and many other places in the world, Christianity is growing rapidly as those societies are modernizing. Then, as people come to Europe and the United States from Africa, Latin America, and Asia, they plant new churches or strengthen other ones that are growing and reaching those cities. Why? Because, while religion that’s inherited will decline in the modern age, religion that’s chosen will not. The growing Christian churches are evangelical and Pentecostal, and they emphasize the biblical call to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15) and the biblical teaching that we stand or fall on our own faith, not the choices of our family or community (Ezek. 18). These churches teach that vicarious, formal religion isn’t enough; there must be a radical, inward conversion (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 9:25; Rom. 2:29). Christianity that foregrounds these important biblical concepts and lifts up heart-changing personal faith can reach many contemporary people—and it can reach cities.

Why would a Presbyterian minister write this since he has subscribed teachings like these?

2. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness. (Confession of Faith, 24)

2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (Confession of Faith, 25)

Just because you believe that infant baptism, catechesis, and covenant nurture is the way God ordained to advance the kingdom of grace does not mean you don’t evangelize or do missions. But don’t you at least have to tip the cap to the tradition in which you minister? Aren’t you as a Presbyterian supposed to believe in covenant children who, like Isaac, grew up never having known a day that you did not trust Jesus?

But if you read Richard Lovelace more than John Williamson Nevin — who is a lot hipper and accessible to urbanists than Hodge or Warfield — I guess you forget what happens to covenant children who try to convert:

I had come to college, a boy of strongly pious dispositions and exemplary religious habits, never doubting but that I was in some way a Christian, though it had not come with me yet (unfortunately) to what is called a public profession of religion. But now one of the first lessons inculcated on me indirectly by this unchurchly system, was that all this must pass for nothing, and that I must learn to look upon myself as an outcast from the family and kingdom of God, before I could come to be in either in the right way. Such, especially, was the instruction I came under, when a ‘revival of religion,’ as it was called, made its appearance among us, and brought all to a practical point. . . .

It was based throughout on the principle, that regeneration and conversion lay outside of the Church, had nothing to do with baptism and Christian education, required rather a looking away from all this as more a bar than a help to the process, and were to be sought only in the way of magical illapse or stroke from the Spirit of God;. . . An intense subjectivity, in one word — which is something always impotent and poor — took the place of a proper contemplation of the grand and glorious objectivities of the Christian life, in which all the true power of the Gospel at last lies. My own ‘experience’ in this way, at the time here under consideration, was not wholesome, but very morbid rather and weak.

Alas, where was mother, the Church, at the very time I most needed her fostering arms? Where was she, I mean, with her true sacramental sympathy and care? How much better it had been for me, if I had only been properly drawn forth from myself by some right soul-communication with the mysteries of the old Christian Creed. (My Own Life, 1870)


12 thoughts on “See Tim Give Away the Covenant

  1. Well, there should at least be agreement there is a big mission field out there in ‘merica of people’s children of all ages :

    “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages.”

    “The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those large religious traditions has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. “

    “Using the margins of error to calculate a probable range of estimates, it appears that the number of Christian adults in the U.S. has shrunk by somewhere between 2.8 million and 7.8 million.”

    “The percentage of college graduates who identify with Christianity has declined by nine percentage points since 2007 (from 73% to 64%).

    “As the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated continue to grow, they also describe themselves in increasingly secular terms.” “The new survey finds that the atheist and agnostic share of the “nones” has grown to 31%. Those identifying as “nothing in particular” and describing religion as unimportant in their lives continue to account for 39% of all “nones.”


  2. I’ve read lots from this blog. Some posts made me glad. Others made me quite angry. But today what I read made me profoundly sad. How can anyone coming from the Reformation think the methods of the Pentecostal church bodies would be an effective way to evangelize? There are many people who have left this world along with Baptist sects etc (like me) who are running Far far away from the crazy uncertainty that these over emphasized, forced religious experiences create in our whole being. I for one am dismayed. If one of the largest figures in the P&R world admonishes his pastors and layman to basically be Pentecostals where shall the smoldering wicks go? In my neck of the woods Presby is as good as it gets.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Because this –– “we stand or fall on our own faith”–– is true, and cannot be properly inherited from a parent. Faith ultimately can only be seen as derivative of election, and every other cause is merely the outworking of election, including placement into a covenant family, which is not a sufficient condition for faith under paedobaptist covenant theology, though you would consider it a necessary one. Therefore his statements are perfectly reasonable, and actually probably especially necessary for paedobaptist Christians, who have the possibility of lapsing into presumptive regeneration based upon their parents. Furthermore, I think his quote makes a great amount of sense for paedobaptists, since he quotes from Joshua’s challenge to the covenant people, Israel, to exercise faith, as opposed to rest upon their inherited covenant relationship, a situation directly analogous to how you formulate your covenant relationship, whereas Baptists may struggle to see the parallel.


  4. Hero, so Isaac is not the model for covenant children — never to know a day when you don’t trust God as your father? We treat kids in Christian homes the way we treat kids in non-Christian homes? We don’t pray with them before they go to sleep? We ask them to leave the table when we say grace? They aren’t Christians yet, right?

    Think about the category of non-communicant church member. And please encourage your pastor crush to do so as well.


  5. Even an Eastern Orthodox Christian understands the covenant better than TKNY (and he is also less impressed with — wait for it — THE CITY):

    What do I mean by that? I mean to put your kids in an authentic Christian school, for example. I mean things as simple as turning off the TV. Don’t be so quick to open the door to popular culture. Growing up, I experienced how television wrecked any morals my parents were trying to teach us – they were fairly conservative, but the TV was like a sewer pipe into the home. Today it’s smartphones. Even in my small Louisiana town, fifth-grade boys are watching hardcore pornography on their smartphones. The parents of these boys just choose not to see.

    But it’s not just running away from what’s destructive – it’s running toward something good. Our kids go to a classical school here in Baton Rouge. The teachers are trying to show the parents of the students: You may have the right instinct to get your kid out of the cesspit of the mainstream by sending them to this school, but it’s not going to help if you just shelter them. You have to show them something good and beautiful and true to build their souls up.

    That’s what I think the Benedict Option ideally should do. It should show the good fruits of a countercultural life in Christian community, and in that way be evangelical. If you’re not evangelical in some sense you’re not Christian. It is a missionary faith. But that doesn’t mean that we have to throw ourselves in the middle of everything when we’re not even properly formed. I know a lot of Christian parents don’t want to take their kids out of the public schools because they say, “Well, our kids need to be salt and light.” I’m afraid that’s incredibly naïve in many cases, when you have third and fourth graders already talking about transgenderism and bisexuality.


  6. Yes Utopian Hero, to your point, if only each of us would have more wonder and awe, even been stunned and ponder more our faith – having been chosen as one rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son ( Col 1:13-14), we each might have a little less arrogance, more humility, and more gratitude.

    Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins…21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach

    Acts 2: 43a Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe


  7. Ali, isn’t it time for you to stop OL? If you actually think this way, why would you regularly read and comment here? Surely your humility and gratitude and awe quotients go down when you open up OL on your browser.

    Or maybe, you’re simply perverse.


  8. Still, as a confessionalist when I read Dreher’s words I wonder about potential downsides to the ethic. Parents can be vulnerable to over-realizing their ordained powers, i.e. taking undue credit for their children’s faith or even undue guilt for those wandering. There still has to be something to be said for a person’s own responsibilities in faith. The impression Dreher and the confessionalist culture can give unwittingly is that all will be well in the bubble.


  9. Home schooling folks don’t much like the idea of no-fault parenting. You take the blame, we take the credit. That’s what authority is for.

    Let’s hoping you don’t make Dreher your “go-to” Eastern orthodox guy.

    Lawrence Farley— “The Eucharist reconstitutes us, week by week, as the Church of God, and nourishes us with His divine life. By receiving the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. Through our partaking of the one bread of the Eucharist, God makes us again into the one Body of the Church. Through our participation in the Eucharist we belong to Christ, and, through Him, to the age to come. The Eucharist takes us from this age and plants us, week by blessed week, in Christ, who has taken His throne beyond this age, at the right hand of God in the age to come (Col. 3:1) … Through our eucharistic inclusion in Christ, we belong to this age no longer.” Let Us Attend: A Journey through the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, pp. 7–8]

    Carl Trueman– “What is clear from the Visitation Articles is that there were serious weaknesses in the effects of Reformation preaching stemming from imbalances in the way Luther’s teachings were being received and transmitted by parish priests. The tendency noted in the articles to preach gospel without law and to try to cultivate faith without repentance had led to behavior that could in no way be considered Christian. Jesus plus nothing was proving to be problematic, and Luther and his colleagues understood that and wished to address it. ”

    David Scaer–“Baptism not only gave entrance into the covenant, baptism was itself the covenant. Being in baptism is equivalent to being in Christ. There is an actual perichoresis, so that one is in and with the other in an organic unity. God is really in the water and no place else and without the sign there is no salvation.” “In accordance with God’s ordered power, that without that outward baptism no one is saved.” LW 3:274.


  10. Should Keller be doing more to form neighborhoods and civic associations?

    Westerhoff, a Protestant, in his classic work, Will Our Children Have Faith?, points out that during the first decades of the twentieth century in American Protestantism there was an ecology of no less than six institutions engaged in various aspects of religious education: the homogeneous town or neighborhood, which established an ethos; the family, which was basically secure and extended; public schools, which set aside time for prayer and Bible reading and inserted moral and religious lessons in texts for general instruction; the church, which was an intergenerational hub of activity; religious periodicals, which were a form of popular entertainment; and the Sunday school.

    By the last quarter of the twentieth century, all of these institutions had changed: neighborhoods became diverse; families were fragmented and mobile; in the name of separation of church and state, public schools forbade religious exercises; the church became a destination for worship while social life was centered elsewhere; religious periodicals went out of business. “So we are left with a church school,” he writes, “struggling to do alone what it took an ecology of six institutions to do in the past. It cannot be done.” Westerhoff’s response was to rethink religious education using what he calls a “community enculturation paradigm”—not to replace the church school, but to support and contextualize what it tries to do. There are hints of this insight in the examples America cites as “promising” but no real acknowledgement of the deep shift in thinking that it represents.

    Or will converts have to rely on their own study to grow in grace and rear their children in the faith?


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