Treasure

Since I began studying covenant theology in the past couple years, I’ve become partial to verses of hymns that speak of God being our highest treasure, portion, or inheritance.

My new favorite verse of Be Thou My Vision is:

Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance now and always;
Thou and thou only first in my heart;
High king of heaven, my treasure thou art.

My new favorite verse of Amazing Grace is:

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

These hymn verses echo for me the promise of God reiterated in every progressive revelation of the covenant of grace that he will be God to us and we will be his people (Genesis 17:7; Leviticus 26:11–12; Jeremiah 31:33; Revelation 21:3). They remind me that God is indeed “the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). 

Why do we baptize infants?

A review of Daniel Hyde’s book “Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children”
“Jesus Loves the Little Children” by Daniel Hyde
“Jesus Loves the Little Children” by Daniel Hyde

When we joined a Presbyterian church in 2011, my wife and I were faced with the decision of whether to baptize our children or to be “conscientious objectors” to the Reformed doctrine of infant baptism. I dedicated myself to a study of the question over the next two years, reading many book-length treatments of the issue from both credobaptist and pedobaptist perspectives, as well as chapters on the subject from many systematic theologies on both sides.

At the end of those two years, I had become persuaded of the covenantal infant baptism position, but felt there was no single concise, accessible, and convincing resource on the topic to which I could point inquiring friends and family. I had even set out to write a book about it myself—I may still finish it some day—but then I discovered Daniel Hyde’s Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children.

Hyde hits all the right notes in under 100 pages (in fact, the core of his argument fits in under 40 pages). He does a great job demonstrating the implications of covenant for the issue of baptism and the connection between the two important covenant signs of circumcision and baptism. I especially appreciated his section showing why anyone who believes in baby dedication should affirm infant baptism instead.

On the whole, this is the best single resource I know of for understanding covenantal infant baptism, and the irenic and winsome tone throughout makes me comfortable sharing it with friends and family of all backgrounds. This is the book I wish I had read first.

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How does Presbyterian theology differ from other forms of Christian theology?

I should say at the outset, you can probably find someone from any stripe of Christianity who would call herself a Presbyterian. There are both theologically conservative Presbyterian denominations, e.g. the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) or the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and theologically liberal Presbyterian denominations, e.g. the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (PC-USA). I am a member of the PCA and can therefore only give an essentially conservative perspective.

The word “presbyterian” comes from the Greek πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) and describes the church polity (or church government) of all Presbyterian denominations, which differs from the episcopalian or congregational forms. Where episcopalian polity holds to a “top down” hierarchy of bishops and congregational polity affirms the “bottom up” independence of individual churches, presbyterian polity attempts to find a middle ground with a plurality of elders (a “session”) leading each congregation and groups of elders from several congregations forming wider “presbyteries” to keep the churches mutually accountable to one another.

However, though unique, this form of church government could hardly be described as the main thing that makes Presbyterians different from other forms of Christianity. Presbyterian theology, including its church polity, follows the ideas of John Calvin and can therefore be called “Calvinist” or “Reformed” theology. (As such, Presbyterian theology is held in common with other Reformed denominations, some of which do not hold to the presbyterian form of church government. Therefore, though I’ll continue to use the word “Presbyterian” below, this should not be taken to imply that any of the following is unique to Presbyterianism.)

One of the chief tenets of Presbyterianism is called “covenant theology”. Covenant theology posits that a single Covenant of Grace runs through both the Old and New Testaments and that the Christian church is therefore a continuation of national Israel, having been grafted as wild olive branches into the same olive tree (Romans 11:11–24). This view is held in contrast to the dispensationalist view held by some other Christian denominations, which affirms that God’s promises and plans were for national Israel in the Old Testament and the Christian church in the New Testament.

Largely because of covenant theology, Presbyterianism places a premium on expository preaching through the entire Bible, finding Christ and the Christian gospel just as clearly in the Old Testament as in the New.

Also arising largely out of covenant theology is a unique form of soteriology (i.e. understanding of salvation) including, perhaps most controversially, the concept of God sovereignly predestining those he would save (i.e. his “elect”) from before the creation of the world and then irresistibly drawing those people to himself. This form of soteriology commonly goes under the name “Doctrines of Grace” or under the acronym “TULIP”. It is also sometimes simply called “Calvinism”, though Calvinism should rightly be understood to encompass more than just this concept of Christian salvation.

I’m trying to keep my answer short, but I would be remiss if I did not also mention briefly that Presbyterians affirm infant baptism and tend to be postmillennial or amillennial in their eschatology (understanding of end time prophecy). These ideas, too, are derived from covenant theology (sensing a pattern, yet?).

Conservative Presbyterian denominations all affirm a historic statement of faith called the Westminster Confession of Faith, an excellent and not overly long read if you want to learn more. And if you’d really like to study Presbyterianism, I recommend On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, And Stories by Sean Michael Lucas. 

This post was originally published on Quora, here: How does Presbyterian theology differ from other forms of Christian theology?