Baptismal Regeneration / Is Paul a Killjoy? / Paul & the Last Days
This is an installment of my replies to a series of articles on the epistle to the Romans (written by St. Paul) by Dr. David Madison: an atheist who was a Methodist minister for nine years: with a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His summary article is called, “Bad Bible Theology: Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Let me count the ways…that Paul got it wrong” (2-26-18). He devotes a paper to each chapter. Unless he repeats himself (a bad habit of his) or descends to sheer biblical skepticism (which I have less than no interest in), I will reply to all.
The introduction is basically a catalogue of rank insults, where he calls St. Paul “a crank” and a “delusional cult fanatic” and “the prototype for Christian crazies” and “an obsessive-compulsive mediocre thinker and bad theologian” and “an embarrassment.” He adds: “how can anyone take this guy seriously?” That about covers the “content” there. Bears poop in the woods, brats throw fits, squirrels walk telephone lines, and the prevalent anti-theist brand of atheists insult Christians. Ho hum. What else is new?
Thus far, I have counter-replied to / answered 29 of Dr. Madison’s critiques, from three different series, without hearing one peep back from him as of yet (26 days’ total time, starting on 8-1-19). This certainly doesn’t suggest to me that he is very confident in his opinions. I know he’s still alive and kicking, because I’ve seen him write other posts during this same period (example one / two / three).
Dr. Madison’s words will be in blue below.
Dr. Madison calls his critique of Romans chapter 6, “The New Testament Peddles an Ancient Gimmick: An old tradition of selling a product you don’t have” (4-7-17).
In verse 15 we find that Paul makes the point again that being “under grace” grants no license to sin. Remember that Paul had advised converts to Christianity that, although they could use Old Testament law as a guide for behavior, they are free of it as a means to salvation: “Should we sin because we are no longer under the law? By no means!”
Of course it gives no such license. Refraining from sin is the most basic and obvious message of the entire Bible. To not do so, and to do so brazenly, is the serious error of antinomianism.
But the primary thrust of this chapter is Paul’s pursuit of the gimmick (“you won’t have to die”) that has always prompted priests to market a product they don’t have. His approach in this instance is convoluted; he garbles baptism with death, vv. 3-5: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” How many readers over the centuries have been baffled by this theobabble?
It’s not “babble” at all; it is the teaching of baptismal regeneration: held by the vast majority of Christians throughout history. Dr. Madison, as usual, is dumbfounded by any reference to the supernatural or sacramentalism. It’s what he does. But note again (as I point out every time) that he makes no rational argument against it.
He assumes it is absurd and ridiculous — knowing that his cheerleading fan club on his own website will agree — and merely mocks it (“gimmick” / “convoluted” / “theobabble”), which is no rational argument. If it’s not a rational argument, then it proves exactly nothing. So don’t be fooled by this unworthy polemical and sophistical tactic. It’s Dr. Madison who is offering the con job, not the Apostle Paul, as he falsely claims.
Dr. Madison continues on for several paragraphs in the same vein, offering choice tidbits like this one: “According to one anonymous wit, ‘Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.'” Whatever. I will continue to operate in the sphere of rational and objective analysis. This kind of smart ass silliness is not that. But we’ll see if Dr. Madison offers us anything of substance in the rest of his critique. At least he offers the following charitable take (?) on St. Paul:
So Paul was a sincere nut / fanatic. That’s the closest thing to a compliment that we will see here! He goes on to argue that Paul is a killjoy and opponent of happiness. Trying to conquer and avoid sin is, according to Dr. Madison, “obsessed.” He wrongly concludes:
How can you follow a guy who wants you to turn off happiness? He begrudgingly gave assent to couples having sex, but not quite: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (I Corinthians 7:1)
I dealt with this claim that Paul was “anti-sex” in my first installment of this series.
There are gazillions of Christians today who work hard at their jobs, are devoted to family and friends, enjoy passion and sex, pursue sports and hobbies and can’t wait for vacation. Turn off happiness? No thanks. And in this context they believe in Jesus and try to be good people. Which is to say that they are not Paul’s brand of Christian; they have no desire to be spooked by his holy rants into extreme piety.
“Happiness” is not the supreme goal of the Christian life. The word appears only once in the entire Bible (RSV): at Lamentations 3:17 (although “blessed” in biblical language is a synonym of “happy”). The Bible refers (in terms of what may be called “interior fulfillment”) to joy and peace and hope (in conjunction with grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit): which are much deeper and more fulfilling (less fleeting) things than happiness.
Romans 5:5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
1 Corinthians 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Ephesians 1:18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,  comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with you all.
1 Timothy 6:17 . . . God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy.
This is hardly the stuff of long-faced, pessimistic, doom-and-gloom puritanical killjoys (quite the contrary!), but Dr. Madison will continue the propagandistic mythmaking and ignore passages like these as long as doing so furthers his cynical, unbelieving agenda.
Why have Christian theologians fawned endlessly over Paul and his strident theology? Isn’t his zealous confidence that Jesus would soon descend through the clouds a big tipoff that he was a crank? Remove that expectation, by the way, and his theology unravels. No, I guess Paul wasn’t the con man. He was the fool.
I dealt with this claim that Paul was “sure” that the end was coming very soon, in my previous reply: Dr. David Madison vs. Jesus #3: Nature & Time of 2nd Coming. See also my related paper: “The Last Days”: Meaning in Hebrew, Biblical Thought.
Nice try, and e for effort, but no cigar . . . The only “fool” here is Dr. Madison.
Photo credit: St. Paul in Prison (1627), by Rembrandt (1606-1669) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]