INTERVIEW – Wayne Grudem, Part Seven – Things We Can Agree to Disagree About?

This interview is being serialised over several days. So far I have published part one, which focused on personal issues, and part two, in which we discussed Systematic Theology. In part three, we explored Grudem’s charge that feminism inevitably leads to a denial of Scripture’s authority. Part four honed in on the “trajectory” arguments used on both sides of this debate. In part five, we looked at the issue of women addressing church congregations. Part six examined John Piper’s accusation of Steve Chalke over the atonement. Today we continue the interview with a look at two areas over which we can perhaps agree to disagree – the charismatic issue and baptism. The interview is summarised in my post Dr Wayne Grudem Interview – Highlights and Reflections.

As an observer, it appears to me that there are certain issues that are fast becoming less “hot” theologically. This seemed to happen to eschatology decades ago – no one seems to be that bothered about it anymore, and it seems to be generally accepted that godly Bible-fearing believers can hold different views. More recently baptism and the charismata seem to be going the same way. Do you think that they will go the way of eschatology and become issues that are broadly accepted as secondary, or do you predict that the evangelical church will come to an understanding on both or either issues that the majority will accept?


The issue of the charismatic movement and miraculous gifts is somewhat different in the United States, since there are still some denominations and educational institutions which officially support a “cessationist” position, or at least look with great scepticism and suspicion on the idea that miraculous gifts continue today. And, frankly, I think that American television has more examples than British television of “charismatic” figures who make many Christians distinctly uncomfortable. (I’m not speaking of all of them, because I have much respect for a number of them as well.) But there certainly exist abuses among people who claim that miraculous gifts continue today, and I have written at length to try to argue for wise and Biblically faithful use of these gifts, and to avoid abuses. The more demonstrative and unusual things still tend to get a lot of visibility on American television, and I think that is unhelpful.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the vast majority of younger seminary students and recent seminary graduates today, while they may not call themselves charismatic or Pentecostal, will generally say, “Well I’m certainly not a cessationist because I can’t see proof for that view in Scripture. But I haven’t seen many good examples of how these things actually work either.” So they often fall in what I would call an “open but cautious” category – some more open and some more cautious! And I do think that people who are strongly committed to a cessationist view are in a much smaller minority today than they were twenty or thirty years ago, at least in the academic world and among younger seminary students and pastors.

It is very hard to get around 1 Corinthians 13:10: “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” People read that in context and nearly always conclude (rightly, I think) that “when the perfect comes” refers to the time of Christ’s return, and “the partial” refers to the miraculous gifts that Paul has been discussing in verses 8-9, such as prophecy and speaking in tongues. So I think most younger pastors and seminary students who think about this topic read that verse and conclude that Paul is saying, “When Christ returns, prophecy and speaking in tongues (and by implication, other spiritual gifts) will pass away.” That means that these gifts are still with us today, and our only question is how to encourage them and use them rightly, seeking always to be subject to Scripture.

The baptism issue is a little different. It’s very hard to have it both ways because when an infant is born in a church, you either baptize the infant, or you don’t. So it’s much more difficult to say, “Let’s just all get along on this.” Well, fine, we all get along. But do we baptize this new baby or not? A church can’t have it both ways. When I wrote my book, Systematic Theology, I was more hopeful that a compromise might be possible in which churches would allow individual pastors and individual families to make this decision for themselves. That is what the Evangelical Free Church of America has done, and it is a strong, healthy denomination in the United States that holds fully to the inerrancy of Scripture. But after many decades, no other denomination, to my knowledge, seems willing to follow them in this position.

The problem is what such a “compromise” implies about the views of baptism of the people who adopt it. For people who hold to infant baptism, they have to be able to say that it’s OK for believing parents not to baptize their infant children, which seems to them to be disobeying a command of Scripture as they understand it. How can they really say this?

On the other side, those who hold to believer’s baptism (as I do) have to be willing to admit into church membership people who have been baptized as infants, and who did not, of course, make any profession of faith at the time they were baptized. But these people (such as myself) who think that genuine baptism has to follow a personal profession of faith are then put in position of saying that infant baptism is also a valid form of baptism. And that contradicts what they believe about the essential nature of baptism – that it is an outward sign of an inward spiritual change, so that the apostle Paul could say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)

I don’t think I realized this difficulty when I wrote my Systematic Theology. I had been in an Evangelical Free Church for about four years and it seemed to me to work well enough. But now I’m beg
inning to realize that admitting to church membership someone who has not been baptized upon profession of faith, and telling the person that he or she never has to be baptized as a believer, is really giving up one’s view on the proper nature of baptism, what it really is. It is saying that infant baptism really is valid baptism! If we didn’t think it was valid baptism, we should be telling people who were baptized as infants that their “baptism” was not valid baptism and they should be baptized now, after their personal profession of faith. They would need to do this in obedience to Christ’s command.

So I have been re-thinking my position on this issue, and I have been considering sending a change to the publishers of my Systematic Theology book, at least explaining that there are more difficulties to my “compromise” view than I had initially realized.

In short, I don’t think the baptism issue is going to go away any time soon.

Finally, I’m thankful that believers who differ on the issue of baptism can still have wonderful fellowship with one another across denominational lines, and can have respect for each other’s sincerely held views. I certainly do not put the question of baptism in the same category as the denial of penal substitutionary atonement which you mentioned [yesterday] because that seems to me to be a denial of the heart of the Gospel. And, as I mentioned, it seems to me that evangelical feminism involves, implicitly at least, a denial of the authority of the Bible. But differing views on baptism or the millennium do not have serious consequences of that type.

Continued in part eight . . . . See also supplementary post, “Wayne Grudem Retracts His Agreement With the Use of the Word “Blasphemy” in Regard to Steve Chalke.”

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