I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.Michael Bird, an evangelical professor at a Scottish theological college, counters:
[T]o label a divergent theological view which is a non-essential to the faith "sinful" is theologically irresponsible, pastorally insensitive, and ecclesially arrogant.Dever responds with a bit of historical perspective and a more fully developed argument:
This does not cause me to doubt the sincerity of my reformed paedobaptist brethren, nor even their judgment in general. It is simply that on this point they've got it wrong, and their error, involving as it does a requiring of something Scripture does not require (infant baptism), and the consequence of a denying of an action Scripture does require (believers baptism) is sinful (though unintentionally so).Bird then replies with an argument that offers several examples of theological differences that should not lead us to the conclusion that those who differ with us are wrong. I won't speak for Dever, but I would not consider someone who disagreed with me over the Millennium or open/closed communion to be in sin. And if anyone can find documentation of Dever doing that, I'd be more than a little surprised.
That's a long introduction, but what makes this conversation interesting is that Bird's conclusions seem similar to those I've heard from various fundamentalist leaders. I've heard two or three interact with Dever on this point, and each of them would agree with Bird that a convictional paedobaptist is not "in sin." I'm not going to go into detail on private conversations, but you can listen in on part of one in the last 30 minutes or so of this interview with Mark Minnick.
I'm not entirely sure why we have this odd juxtaposition of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Together against Dever. I'm not familiar with Bird and won't try to get inside his head. A broader atheological evangelicalism would no doubt demonstrate a knee-jerk reaction against calling much of anything sin. But I certainly would not call Minnick and others atheological (and I don't expect that Bird is either). I wonder if the fundamentalist mindset isn't equipped to process maintaining fellowship and cooperation with people who are in ongoing, unrepentant—albeit unwitting—sin.
The danger with the Bird-Minnick approach is what happens if we conclude that we can't consider someone to be in sin if his errant beliefs and associated disobedient actions are sincerely held and practiced, or if that particular theological conclusion seems less clear than another.
Here's what I mean. What if a person who professes to believe the gospel sincerely concludes that Scripture teaches that women can be pastors? Or that God doesn't know the future since the future doesn't exist yet? Or that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world—all of it—therefore, no one deserves God's wrath? Those are complex issues. They might even seem less clear to some people than when people should be baptized. After all, isn't it a bit myopic to suggest that what's clear to me should be just as clear to you?
So do varying levels of clarity mean we shouldn't consider an egalitarian or an open theist or a universalist to be teaching error—even in sin? Not at all. At least not in my opinion. If you disagree, I have a question: What's the qualitative difference between your hermeneutic of humility and Brian McLaren's?
It cuts both ways. I certainly don't mind if Minnick considers me to be in error and propagating sin because I don't believe women are required to wear head coverings in church. (Though it is nice to know that there's one sin in the world that I can never personally commit.)
Some of these differences—these errors and sins—will limit our fellowship. Perhaps all of them will in some way. Sin does that. But at the end of the day, aren't we all sinners in some way that may be unknown to us? Ongoing, unrepentant, (albeit unwitting) sinners. I'm pretty sure I am.
And that is what you get when you sit down to blog while you're watching March Madness.