The Last Adam And His Seed: An Exercise In Theological Preemption -- By: R. Fowler White

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 06:1 (Spring 1985)
Article: The Last Adam And His Seed: An Exercise In Theological Preemption
Author: R. Fowler White


The Last Adam And His Seed:
An Exercise In Theological Preemption

R. Fowler White

Westminster, Theological Seminary

Introduction

The Reformation and post-Reformation history of the Church’s debate concerning the proper recipients of water-baptism shows that for the infant baptist (or “paedobaptist”), the propriety of infant baptism is established by appeals to continuity and discontinuity in the covenant’s historical administrations.1 From the standpoint of discontinuity, the infant baptist observes that flesh-circumcision, the covenant sign instituted in conjunction with the Abrahamic covenant, has been replaced by water-baptism, flesh-circumcision’s functional and spiritual equivalent instituted in conjunction with the new (Messianic) covenant. From the standpoint of continuity, he argues that the genealogical principle operative in the Abrahamic dispensation, by which principle Abraham the believer and his offspring (“you and your seed,” Gen 17:7) were included within the covenant and received the covenant sign, is applicable without suspension or abrogation in the Messianic dispensation.

Church history also bears witness to the fact that, like infant baptists, some (covenantal2 ) believer baptists wish to establish the propriety of believer baptism by appeals to continuity and discontinuity between the Abrahamic and Messianic covenant administrations. On the one hand, they, with the infant baptist, observe that water-baptism has replaced flesh-circumcision in the ongoing realization and symbolization of heart-circumcision in the covenant community. On the other hand, these believer baptists, unlike their opponents, argue that the genealogical principle operative under the Abrahamic dispensation of the covenant is no longer applicable under the new dispensation of the covenant, except in so far as the persons included within the covenant and made recipients of water-baptism are Abraham’s offspring by faith in Christ.

As a new generation of the post-Reformation church surveys its theological heritage, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the rehearsal of traditonal formulations in the continuing debate has stifled rather than

stimulated progress toward and interest in ecclesiastical consensus on the Lord’s baptismal ordiance. One such traditional formulation is the infant baptist’s conception of covenant continuity as it finds expression in the geneological principle. Consider, for example, the following passage from the well-known exponent of infant baptism, John Murra...

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