Election and Barth’s Rejection of Appeal to Circumcision - Mondays with McMaken

Time for another installment of what I just know is your most favorite series, gentle reader.

The second chapter of the book dealt with Barth’s rejection of what I call the sacramental argument in favor of infant baptism. This, the third chapter, deals with his rejection of what I call the covenantal argument for infant baptism. Barth’s doctrine of election plays a key role in each chapter.

The following paragraph comes from the hinge section in chapter three as it moves from an explication of Francis Turretin to one of Barth.

W. Travis McMaken, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Emerging Scholars (Fortress, 2013), 112–13.
Although Berkouwer is correct to note that Barth affirms in his earlier writings the notion that baptism replaces or fulfills circumcision, Barth negatively assesses Calvin’s argument for infant baptism on the basis of circumcision in a short fine-print section toward the end of Church Dogmatics IV/4. He admits that this argument has some force and that it rests on an “intrinsically correct and important” insight, namely, the material unity in formal distinction that obtains between the Old and New Testaments in what Turretin would call the covenant of grace (CD IV/4, 177; KD IV/4, 195). Nonetheless and precisely because this covenant unity does not exist without such distinction, it is a mistake to transfer meaning wholesale between baptism and circumcision. Another way to state this objection is to inquire, admitting that there is essential unity but formal or administrative distinction, whether the application of this rite to infants is an essential or formal aspect. If the former, then baptism (and circumcision) given to adults would be extraordinary; if the latter, then administration of circumcision to infants does not necessarily carry over to the administration of baptism to infants. Barth does not elucidate this logic, however. He instead focuses on what he considers the primary distinction between the two forms of the covenant of grace: while the nation of Israel “elected and called by God to serve Him” constituted the Old Testament covenant community, the New Testament covenant community “is not a nation” but is “called and assembled out of Israel and all nations” (CD IV/4, 178; KD IV/4, 196). What Barth takes from this distinction is that “Christian baptism, as distinct from Israelite circumcision, cannot be [administered] on the basis of the physical descent of the candidate” (CD IV/4, 178; KD IV/4, 196).

Two things are important here. First, . . .
You know the drill.



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