Rich Lusk serves as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. He has been a prolific writer and ardent defender of The Federal Vision. This book is a brief historical and theological defense for the idea of paedofaith (the idea that infants are born as believers). The implications of such a view affect ones ecclesiology, sacramentology, and to a lesser degree, one’s church/state convictions.
Pastor Lusk offers persuasive defense for the idea of paedofaith within a covenantal framework, drawing heavily upon such passages as Psalm 22:9-10, Psalm 71:5-6, Psalm 139, Psalm 8, Psalm 127:1-5, Psalm 128, Matthew 18:1-14, Matthew 19:13-15, 1 Corinthians 7:14, among others.
Lusk then proceeds to offer a brief historical analysis, citing from such heavyweights as Luther and Calvin, as well as the confessions and catechisms, to defend the legitimacy of paedo faith as a valid framework with covenantal theology. Lusk’s history also encompasses the early debates on the American continent within Presbyterianism, highlighting the awakenings and Jonathan Edwards influence in moving Presbyeterianism further away from the idea of paedo faith. Lusk essentially concludes that the church sold out to a baptistic paradigm for conversion/initiation of children into the church. Infant baptism was reduced to nothing more than a “Wet dedication”. Included within this analysis is the issue of infants who die in infancy and how the church has spoken to the status of such children.
The book progresses to cover some nuanced and necessary qualifications to the author’s thesis and then concludes with some practical advice on how children should be nurtured within the church and home assuming the paradigm of paedo faith.
First of all, Lusk’s book is informative and we should all aspire to learn more and more about this precious topic of how God looks upon our children and how we ought to treat them and assimilate them into the church community. As a Baptist I’ve long been unsatisfied with the tradition’s theological treatment of children. Baptists have varied in their theology of children, historically believing in an age of accountability, where our children automatically go to heaven because God would not be seen as just in condemning an infant who has no capacities to comprehend general revelation, which is usually seen as necessary for God’s just wrath (Rom. 1). In this paradigm, children go to heaven primarily because God would not be just in condemning one with limited capacities.
Baptists who hold to original sin run into a problem with automatically placing infants and the disabled into heaven based primarily on their convictions that God’s can’t justly condemn. The problem resides in the fact that original sin still needs to be dealt with and God can’t arbitrarily just look over the “state” of sin that the infant resides under, even if one is convinced that God can’t justly condemn due to a lack of general revelation. In my reading of Baptists like Spurgeon, Piper, and MacArthur, they all want to ground their conviction of the infant’s salvation primarily due to lack of general revelation, but then proceed to grant that God, in His inscrutable wisdom and goodness, is able to impute the righteousness of Christ to such infants apart from their faith. Lusk sees this as problematic because it would undermine “sole fide”. Lusk’s conclusion, then, is to state that our infants are in fact believers. While I still need to work on this issue some more, and do share some of Lusk’s concerns with the Baptist position of infants, I am hopeful that Baptists can offer a more nuanced position on infants that will resolve some incinsistencies in their position.
What’s ironic of the Baptist position, if I’m allowed to criticize my own camp, is that they deny to Presbyterians and Reformed the claim that their children are born into some sort of covenantal status because they think the Scriptures do not teach such; but are willing to pronounce with certainty that all children and mentally handicapped automatically go to heaven and are imputed with Christ’s righteousness when they die. Where can the Baptist speak with such unflinching certainty of the status of children when they happen to die, but are entirely agnostic and even opposed to the idea that the child had any objective status before they died? This is a contradiction that should force Baptists to either, be a bit more gracious to their Presbyterian and Reformed friends, or claim an agnostic position about what happens to our children if they should die young. Baptist brethren, you can’t have it both ways!
I don’t share all of Lusk’s convictions, but am willing to grant that his answers regarding children of believers is far more rooted in Scripture and Church history than any Baptist treatment of this topic. I say this to the Baptist’s shame. Perhaps, I will one day offer a Baptist reassessment of a theology of children (it is something I have been working on for several years). After reading Lusk’s book, one ought not laugh mockingly at the idea of paedo faith. He is persuasive enough to at least garner some respect for the position.
While Lusk presents a strong case for paedo communion based on his understanding of paedo faith, he does not satisfactorily explain why the likes of Luther, Calvin, and confessional Presbyterianism/Reformed have required some qualified initiatory faith for the Eucharist. While Lusk cites Luther and Calvin as advocates of paedo faith, they certainly didn’t embrace the paedo communion that Lusk thinks such a position demands. Herein lies the quandary for paedo communiion advocates. This where Lusk can’t have it both ways. He can’t insinuate that Luther and Calvin pretty much viewed infants as having the neccesary faith to make them beleivers, while ignoring the fact that they also required some aspect of mature faith before the Table. At least for Luther and Calvin, they didn’t view paedo faith as neccesesitating paedo communion as Lusk does. Of course the Church is always reforming and on this point Lusk may be brave enough to say that Luther and Calvin got it wrong and were inconsistent. Otherwise, Lusk needs to acknowledge that Luther and Calvin were much more nuanced as it regards paedo faith and the full initiation of the child at the Table.
Lusk conveniently highlights the awakening and the likes of Jonathan Edwards as enemies to paedofaith and proponents of an unbiblical rigorism with regards to initiation of children into church membership, even claiming that Baptists essentially won the day. Why does Edwards get pegged as a foe in this debate, while Calvin and Luther get ignored in that their practice was not markedly different from what Edwards was advocating?
Quoting from Lusk (2005:98),
Edwards’ theology tended to downplay the biblical themes of paedofaith and covenant succession. The hyper-emphasis on a conversion experience led to a decline in attention given to the nurture of covenant children in their infancy and youth.
Lusk proceeds to offer this footnote on the previous quote:
Of course that makes it rather ironic that the Edwards family is one of the greatest illustrations of covenant succession in American history. One generation after another in the Edwards family tree served God faithfully in the church and world.
Edwards’ family line is so impressive that some have cited him as proof for eugenics. I would submit that Edwards was not functionally different from what Calvin’s childrearing would have looked like. I would also submit that their piety would be much similar in the home. What Lusk wants to call a “hyper-emphasis” on religious affections may very well be consistent with the Scripture’s emphasis on proper religious affections. I would suggest John Piper’s, “Desiring God”, as an able defense of “Christian Hedonism” as being anything other than Scriptural.
I don’t appreciate how Lusk seemingly wants to cite Edwards lineage as “ironic”, almost as if it were in spite of Edwards “hyper-emphasis” conversion. Pastor Lusk, is it possible that it’s no irony at all and that Edwards “Biblical-emphasis” on affections actually played a part in emulating for his children what the converted Christian life should look like?
Lusk enlists David’s Psalms in regard to paedo faith, but seemingly igonores that David was also, dare I say, very rigurou in his faith. While Lusk does acknowledge that faith should grow under nurture, I think his criticisms of Jonathan Edwards proves too much. What’s Lusk’s alternative? That we downplay zeal and evidences of grace in one’s life? Is the Apostle Paul being overly rigurous when he states that God loves a cheerful giver? In fact, it would be better not to give than to give in a state of begrudging duty. I don’t think Edwards is a culprit when he struggled serving people the Table who lacked some minimal level of affections. Is the Psalmist being overly rigurous when he commands God’s people to rejoice?
I would warn Lusk not to criticize too heavily the likes of Edwards and Baptists on the issue of piety lest he finds himself also criticizing large portions of the Scriptures which would also seem “hyper-rigurous” according to his standards.
Lusk also offers some qualified praise for Ted Tripp, a Baptist, whose books have been a blessing to many on the topic of parenting. Lusk positively cites that Tripp believes that God’s grace attends discipline so as to work in the children. I would submit to Lusk that we Baptists are not as monolithic as he would like to portray. We are no enemies of children. A recent study I read (which I can’t find), ranked Baptists as first among the retention rate for children who go on to affiliate with the Church into adulthood.
Lusk’s book was well worth my time and I shall refine my own position even further based on some thoughts derived from this work.
© 2011, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.