[#] a different "wet" controversy

I was discussing the matter of baptism with a fellow last night and early this morning, and I thought my last post to him would be useful in the blogspace. I am sure that most of you know (or know about) Tim Enloe. Whatever you do in reading this post, please pray for his upcoming marriage and for his wife-to-be.

Tim said:
OIC, Paul mentioned White and Svendsen. But you didn't, and neither did I.
Dr. Owen’s context is, as is his method of operation, to position himself against "Baptists" in general and Dr. White in particular. "His position", which you refer to, is made plain over against the position Drs. White and Svendsen advocate by his own words. They are part of the discussion as context – a context Dr. Owen selected.

Tim said:
The way you {lined out White’s view}, if it correctly describes his view, means that Baptism can only be a subjective thing, and that it can only get its validity from the objective thing, namely, to borrow from you, "the Gospel" defined in the explicitly propositional manner that you mentioned and lacking any serious practical distortions such as the ones you mentioned.
I give you credit for always saying things in a way that makes me engage the brain before trying to reply. I’d offer the following two points in reply:

(A) I did say there is an objective basis for the salvation of the individual – however, I did not say that this "objective thing" was "the Gospel". As I wrote the 5-point outline of Dr. White’s position, I was thinking that the objective thing was Jesus Christ. The description of Jesus Christ and His work which we receive in Scripture would, technically, be "the Gospel". The basis of the Gospel is Jesus Christ. Because we are again splitting some fine theological hairs, I leave this open to Dr. White’s correction.

(B) In that situation, you might call baptism a "subjective" thing – but only in the sense that it is derivative of Jesus Christ. The text of the book of John (as an example) is also derivative of Jesus Christ. You might then call it a "subjective" thing, but it is subjective not because it can mean anything to anybody but because it requires a context for validity. Jesus Christ does not require a context but in fact provides the context for all things.

That all said, Baptism may be a "subjective" thing – but it is not a meaningless thing. I think you here make the kind of mistake that you say the folks in my camp make all the time – which is to be trapped in the paradigm "Objective=good, subjective=pomo/bad".

Tim said:
Hence, the reason White so strenuously denies the validity of RC baptism is because the RCC "denies the Gospel", and thus, has merely a subjective ritual that means nothing in any meaningful "Christian" sense.
Does a baptism on a movie set for the movie narrative count, Tim? What if the person doing the baptizing is himself a right-minded trinitarian? That’s a great example of the fact that even in your view, baptism itself requires a specific context to be valid – that it is derivative of a context. The only question is "which context"?

For you, it is "church" in the sense of all the people baptized into the covenant, without regard to the kind of leadership that particular body might have – which is an effort in itself to avoid the docetist error, yes? The effectiveness of the sacrament does not rely on the moral purity of the provider of the sacrament? If that’s the case, there is a very hard problem that the Mormon may actually have a valid baptism – because even though the baptizer says that God is a spiritually-evolved man and Christ is the same thing, he baptizes into Jesus Christ.

Of course, the right objection to this comment is, "they are baptizing into the wrong Christ, Frank." And I would agree with you: the Mormon baptism is not a baptism at all because it baptizes into some other creature besides Christ.

And that leads to the place where Dr. White and Pastor Wilson got to last fall: do Catholics baptize into Christ or not, and is baptism credo or paedo? Tim: the only way we can know into whom the Catholic baptize is by reading what they teach – just like with the Mormon. And if the Catholic doctrines of Christ and Mary have corrupted Christology (I suggest you read CCC sections 963-970 for quite the eyeful), then they do not have a valid basis for baptizing in the same way that the Mormon does not have a valid basis for baptizing.

So whether credo or paedo is valid, the essential question is "what kind of church can validly baptize?" It is certainly a matter of context, and in that respect it is certainly subjective, which is to say derivative of the objective basis for salvation.

Tim said:
If you've described his view correctly, then I think my statement which you questioned would be an accurate inference from his view. But perhaps he'd like to challenge that.
This is the most important part of this reply, Tim: it may be a logically-valid inference, but it is not one which Dr. White either endorses or countenances. It is impossible to find him musing or considering that Baptism is "meaningless" unless he says "meaningless without the Gospel of Jesus Christ" or "meaningless without faith", which is exactly the same position Calvin took.

You can’t find it in his work. It doesn’t exist. And here’s what’s most important about that: while you have inferred this conclusion from his premises, you have made an error in the use of the word "subjective" in doing so. "Subjective" can certainly mean "having no fixed basis", but it can also mean "having only a relative basis; being something which is not meaningful without context". It is only in that sense that "subjective" can be used to describe the Baptist view which Dr. White advocates.