The Fatal Flaw exposes the inconsistencies of the theology behind infant baptism. Rather than rehashing the familiar arguments against infant baptism, this work seeks to undercut its very foundation. What is the theological system which under girds infant baptism and where does this system come unraveled? This work answers these questions by explaining the distinction in the nature of the old and new covenants and their often misunderstood relationship with one another. This critical discussion of the continuity and discontinuity of the covenants is thoroughly explored in this book. To understand the biblical connection between the covenants, it is vital to first understand the dual nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. What is the relationship between Abraham and Moses, Abraham and Christ, and Moses and Christ? The debate of continuity and discontinuity between the old and new covenants cannot be properly solved until the intended nature of the Abrahamic Covenant is fully comprehended.
I very much recommend this new book. It is an excellent study of various covenant theologies and also an argument against infant baptism. But I want to quibble with one page of this book. I quote Johnson:
"The covenant of works that Christ was obligated to fulfill could not have been the covenant of creation. Why ?Because this covenant had already been broken and its death penalty issued upon Adam's fallen race. Thus Christ had to be born outside the broken covenant of creation...He could not be born under the federal headship of Adam. As Wisius explains, `That the surety was not from Adam's covenant, not born under the law of nature, and consequently not born under the imputation of Adam's sin.'
Johnson continues: "The law justifies but before the law men could not merit salvation by works, because there was no covenant....If all this is true, then the Mosaic covenant had to be a covenant of works; our salvation depended upon it. If not, there would be no covenant to reward the man Christ Jesus for His obedience."
I have of course not quoted the entire argument. I encourage you to buy the book and read the discussion beginning on p 146 an ending on p162. What do I disagree with in the above argument? I agree that Christ was not born under the federal headship of Adam. I agree that the Mosaic covenant was a legal conditional covenant.
I even agree with Johnson's larger point, which is that the Mosaic covenant cannot be seen as an "administration of the covenant of grace". But I go further and question even the idea of any "the covenant of grace." Which covenant is "the covenant of grace"? Is it the Abrahamic covenant? Is it the new covenant? Are both those covenants one and the same? Are both those covenants administrations of "the covenant of grace"?
Johnson is very good in showing that the Abrahamic covenant had both its unconditional and conditional aspects. At one point (p215), he even refers to Bunyan's idea that Christ kept the conditional aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, that had NOT been kept by anybody else. When Gal 3:16 explains that the promise was made to Abraham and his seed, and then explains that Christ is that one seed, why not see Christ alone as obeying the Abrahamic requirement for blood?
Why does Johnson think he needs to see the Mosaic covenant (instead of the Abrahamic legal aspect) as the covenant of works Christ kept? Isn't circumcision a requirement of not only the Mosaic but also of the Abrahamic covenant? And doesn't that circumcision point to the need for the blood not of animals but of Christ?
Make no mistake. I believe and rejoice in the federal headship of Christ. Even if "merit" is not a biblical word, "works" is a biblical word, and my hope is Christ's finished work for the elect. My objection is to the idea that the Mosaic covenant is the condition of the agreement of God the Father, Son and Spirit to redeem the elect. Why must the "covenant with Christ" be conflated with either the covenant with Adam or the covenant with Moses?
I am not disagreeing that there is legal covenantal arrangement with Adam. Even though as a supralapsarian, I do question language about what Adam "could have earned if he had passed probation", I do not at all question the federal imputation of Adam's sins to the human race, including to the elect. And I as noted in my first paragraph, I agree that the Mosaic covenant is conditional, so that it ends with the coming of Christ.
I am only questioning why Johnson must locate the legal conditions of Christ the covenantal surety in the terms of the Mosaic covenant. His answer is that Christ was not under Adam. But why not say that Christ was under the Abrahamic conditions? Why not go with Bunyan in saying that Christ kept the Abrahamic requirements so that the promise would be unconditional to all the elect promised salvation by the Abrahamic covenant?
Johnson does not really answer this question, and I would love to have a talk with him about it. He quotes Galatians 4 about Christ being born under the law to redeem those under the law. While I do not doubt that Christ was born under the Mosaic law, I do question if "under the law" can be identified with "under the Mosaic law", even in Galatians. I know that it is now common in biblical theology (not only in Baptist new covenant theology) to say that "the law" must mean only "Mosaic law", but I still question if we can deal with Galatians in that simple fashion.
Is it true that Gentiles are now or ever were under the curse of the Mosaic law? I am only asking a question here. Please don't call me a dispensationalist for asking the question! My hope in the gospel has everything to do with Christ legally paying off (satisfying) the curses of God's law against the elect. But my hope in the gospel does not depend on me identifying God's law with the Mosaic law.
On page 163, Johnson seems to give away his case for the Mosaic covenant being the "covenant of works" Christ was under. In a footnote, he acknowledges that Gentiles were not under the Mosaic covenant, but then says "nevertheless they were still under the covenant of works" and then quotes Romans 2:14 (a law unto themselves). But doesn't this show that you can be under a covenant of works and not be under Moses? And if so, doesn't this show that Christ could have been under a "covenant of works" for His elect without that being the Mosaic covenant?
To say that Christ died "for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant" as Hebrews 9;15 explains is to say that some of the elect were under the first covenant. Even though Johnson quotes this verse on p92 of his book, he does not relate it to his argument about Christ not being under the Adamic covenant but the Mosaic covenant.
In context, of course, I think "first covenant" does here mean the Mosaic covenant. But does that prove that the gentile elect were under the Mosaic covenant or that Christ died for the gentile elect's transgression of the Mosaic covenant. I don't see how the verse proves either point.
As James Haldane suggests in his commentary on Hebrews (p245, Newport Commentary Series, Particular Baptist Press), the solution to the problem of the first covenant is not to find a mediator of that first covenant. If a former covenant is infringed by one of the parties, satisfaction is given by making a second covenant.
If we can make distinctions between covenants, as Johnson is advocating, and we should, then we should make distinction between God's law. Of course, Johnson does refer to "the moral law", and thus assumes a difference between the ceremonial laws of Moses and other laws. And paedobaptists do this as well.
But if you are going to make distinctions within the Mosaic law, why not be consistent in thinking about these distinctions when you think of Christ legally satisfying the Mosaic law? Was Christ keeping the ceremonial laws of Moses when He shed His blood? The book of Hebrews speaks of another covenant and another law. Would failure to keep the ceremonial laws of Moses result in a curse? Were we Gentiles under the curse of the Mosaic law for our failure to keep the ceremonial law?
I am not denying that Christ was cursed by God's law for the sins of the elect. I am only questioning the idea of pointing to the Mosaic covenant as that law or as that "covenant of works" for Christ. If you want to use the language of a covenant of works for Christ our federal Head, why not go to the Abrahamic covenant for that? Or even better, why not refer to a "covenant of redemption" which is neither the Mosaic nor the Abrahamic (in its conditional aspect, for the physical children of Abraham, such as the duty to be physically circumcised)?
Hebrews 13:20--"the God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant."
Are the elect justified on the basis of the physical circumcision of Christ? I am not denying that Christ was physically circumcised, but I am questioning if that circumcision was a vicarious law-keeping for the elect. Since we Gentile elect were never commanded to be physically circumcised, how then we can be cursed because our parents didn't do it, or blessed because Christ did do it?
With thanks to the memory of Jonathan Rainbow, who recently died, and who asked these same questions thirty years ago. How can the ceremonies curse? See also his wonderful novel, Speak To Her Kindly, and his essay on "Confessor Baptism", in Believer's Baptism, 2006, Schreiner and Wright