I thank Jay Dyer for his opening statement. I will interact with his opening statement and focus on more specific critiques of Eastern Orthodoxy in particular in my rebuttal.
I have the privilege of defending and earnestly contending for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. But what is this faith? Indeed, the debate topic for us asks whether Reformed Baptist Christianity or Eastern Orthodoxy is the true faith. Many denominations and branches of Christianity, including the cults, claim to be the one and true faith handed down by the apostles. To verify whether they are true or not, many offer different claims as proof. Some appeal to "apostolic succesion"; some claim that only they are living in right practice; still others claim that their "translation" of the Word of God is the only correct one. How did the apostles and Jesus Himself view this? "To the Law and to the Testimony."
WHY I AM A REFORMED BAPTIST
I will briefly outline why I am a Reformed Baptist in my theological and philosophical convictions. These will be mainly described as follows:
(1) Philosophically, only Reformed theology allows for the preconditions of intelligibility. That is to say, only it makes sense of the world around us.
(2) Theologically, Reformed theology alone makes sense of the Scriptural revelation.
(3) Practically, only Reformed theology in all its fullness delivers the whole counsel of God and therefore brings about proper Christian living. Specifically, Reformed Baptist theology sees the glory of the New Covenant, which is a far better covenant, with Christ Himself as its very essence.
Philosophers have always asked questions about the nature of reality, the nature of good and evil, the nature of knowledge, and the nature of beauty. These are of course only a few of the questions that philosophy asks. But philosophers are rightly not content to be satisfied with only a few questions answered. They want to know what is the truth.
Cornelius Van Til was a Christian philosopher and theologian who the Lord used to bring glory to Christ by demonstrating that only Christ Himself and the Christian theistic worldview, particularly in its Reformed presentation, is the only worldview which makes sense. The presuppositions of the Reformed worldview help us to critique other worldviews themselves. Let us look at a few examples of these presuppositions:
(1) God exists as the absolute sovereign Ruler of the universe, governing all aspects of His creation. This is an important presupposition, because, although other Christians will affirm this to some degree, when they are really pressed, we Reformed find that they do not really understand the word "sovereign" in its true sense. For example, a "sovereign" nation is one that is self-governing, and only influenced by itself when it comes to its laws and reign. We Reformed would say the same about God. God is sovereign in the sense that He has absolute free reign over His entire creation. There is nothing that anyone can do to influence Him. He is a Law unto Himself. In fact, not even man's so-called "free will" can stop His plans, because God Himself has even ordained our free acts themselves. Many Christians do not believe that God has really ordained all things. They most certainly don't believe that God has ordained the Fall of man into sin. More than that, they don't dare believe that God has predestined who will be saved and who will be lost. But this is what the Bible teaches. See Romans 9; Proverbs 16:4; Lamentations 3:37-38; Ezekiel 14:9; Ephesians 2:1-10; etc.
If someone does not affirm that God has ordained all things, we can simply break it down and ask them what they mean. So does an event happen because God just thought it would happen or knew it would? Then it was still certain. But some have gone the heresy road and deny God's foreknowledge at all. We can ask them, then, how God planned the redemption of mankind. There is simply an unraveling of the faith unless one upholds God's absoute and sovereign decree.
(2) Although God is absolutely transcendent, yet He stoops down to us and is immanent as well. He has revealed Himself to us in the Person and work of Christ and in Holy Scripture, as well as by way of covenant. Eastern Orthodoxy will say that God's Word is mainly Christ, Who they say is the Icon of God. This is only half the story. How do they know about Christ except by the propositional revelation which is Scripture itself? When we view Scripture, we see that God revealed Himself by way of covenant to the people of Israel, who He used as is even presently using even in their casting away temporarily to bring the gospel to the Gentile nations. God's covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and the New Covenant are all related and supplement one another. Reformed theology calls this the unity of the covenant of grace. That is to say, that in these covenants there underlies a unity and a fundamental purpose, which is God's plan of salvation for the human race, and the bringing about of the glory of His dear Son.
Dispensationalism, which is the most popular form of thought in American evangelicalism today, sees God's purposes for Israel and the Church as entirely distinct and separate from one another. This gave way to the rise of premillennialism and pre-tribulationism, and a truncated ecclesiology and soteriology. The dispensational view of the holiness of God is very low; it is a focus on His immanence at the expense of His transcendence. Eastern Orthodoxy, likewise, I argue, focuses on God's transcendence (hence apophatic theology and the "negative way") at the expense of His immanence. Both are extremes. It seems to me that only Reformed theology keeps the balance.
(3) Our understanding is darkened unless God renews us and regenerates us by His Holy Spirit. False understanding and idolatry is expressed in all non-Reformed worldviews. I realize that this is a grand statement to make, and a sweeping one. But I have yet to see any worldview that is not Reformed (and I argue, baptistic as well) keep from falling into internal contradictions or practical contradictions from its own claims. One example dealing with Eastern Orthodoxy will suffice. The East says that apophatic (negative) statements about God are really the best way to know God; yet Jesus Himself says in John 17 that "this is eternal life: that they may KNOW You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent." Now, if eternal life is knowing God, then surely it is more than negatively! If I know my wife, I know BOTH positive AND negative things about her. EO claims to accept Scriptural revelation, but not only does it have problems here epistemically, but it also fails to account for the fullness of divine revelation.
This brings us to why I am a Reformed Baptist theologically speaking. I believe that the best expression of the faith once for all delivered unto the saints is the London Baptist Confession of 1689 (although I would amend one part to say that the Pope is AN antichrist, although not THE Antichrist). We do not have time to exposit the Confession now, but every section is replete with Scriptural proofs. Only the Reformed faith makes sense of the strong Scriptural language dealing with the depravity of man (Jer. 17:9; Ro 9:16; Ro 8:7-8; John 6:44ff; etc.). It is probably safe to say that every other branch of Christian thought is semi-Pelagian, if not fully Pelagian. This is ironic as well, because, although I would not view the church councils say the way Rome or the East would (the East holds to seven, Rome to twenty-one), nonetheless, Pelagius was the heretic condemned by the most church councils in all of church history. Yet, his thought is alive and well in Eastern Orthodoxy today (as well as Rome, and also in evangelicalism).
Only the Reformed faith makes sense of the strong Scriptural language when it comes to God's election of individuals unto salvation, and even reprobation (which Lutherans do not accept). I honestly do not have time to list the *numerous* Scriptures on this subject.
The Reformed faith has a very high view of Christ's atonement, His propitiation and expiation. Eastern Orthodoxy does not even like to speak in those categories, since it sees the Resurrection as more central than the cross (because our main purpose, according to them, is theosis and not necessarily judicial justification). We Reformed are very concerned and disturbed by a so-called "atonement" that does not really propitiate and expiate. Further, we see that atonement itself has always and only been designed for only those within the covenant community. Israel's sacrificial system was never designed to remit the sins of those outside of the theocracy and state of Israel. Likewise, Christ's atonement was never, indeed, could never be, designed to take away the sins of anyone except God's elect people.
The Reformed faith has a high view of the Spirit's calling and regeneration. But more than that, the Reformed Baptist faith has a high view of baptism (as well as the Lord's Table). We have been saved, as Titus says, by the washing of regeneration. We have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God. The reason we are born of water and the Spirit is because baptism historically before the third century was always seen as the culmination of the conversion experience. "Arise and wash away your sins." But Peter is clear that baptism does not save merely by the water, but by "the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Christ." It is God's way of testifying to us that we truly have been born again. When the Spirit calls us, there is a clean break with sin. Before that, we are dead in our sins. Even as the lion has the "free will" to choose to eat the vegetables or not, and it never will, our "free will" is bound in sin and will always choose to reject the gospel offer. "Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard change its spots? Neither can you who do evil do good." "The hostile mind is not subject to God's Law, nor indeed can be; those who are in the flesh CANNOT please God." (Ro 8:7-8) "No one CAN come to Me unless the Father Who sent me draws him . . . and I will raise him up at the last day." (Jn 6:44ff.)
Finally, the Reformed faith has a high view of the saints' perseverance. If there is one verse which refutes all self-righteousness, all works-based views of salvation (I include among that the so-called "Federal Vision" troubling Reformed circles these days), it is this: "If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself." Hallelujah! Our perseverance does not depend upon ourselves. This is hope for the sin-sick soul. The gospel is truly good news. But in Eastern Orthodoxy, the gospel is not good news at all. Michael Horton rightly noted that he has never been attracted to Rome or Orthodoxy, because "there's just not enough of the gospel there." I agree. In fact, the only gospel I know of is what Charles Spurgeon said: "It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else." This may seem like a strong statement, but he made clear that he could not (and nor can I) comprehend a "gospel" that depends upon man's so-called free-will, or a "gospel" which has Jesus "loving" and "dying for" Judas in the same way that He "died for" Peter, or a "gospel" which allows man to thwart God's ?perfect? plan, or a "gospel" which lets saints fall away after they are "called."
This leads us to the practical reasons why I am a Reformed Baptist. I have recently wrestled, as many of my blog readers know, with the baptism issue once again, but as I have had time to reflect on this, as well as all of the related issues when it comes to ecclesiology, I am beginning to see the claims of the traditional Reformed Baptist view of the New Covenant. Any kind of Christianity that wants to claim Christianity needs to deal with Jeremiah 31:31-34 in its essence right now. Dispensationalism cannot deal with it because of its stark separation of Israel and the Church, and if it says that the New Covenant is here now in any sense whatsoever, it ceases to be dispensationalism, because here we now have the Church receiving the promises of the New Covenant! Reformed paedobaptist theology cannot really tell us what is "new" about the New Covenant, since it flattens out the covenant of grace to the extreme to the point where there is almost no difference at all. (I realize that paedos will contest this; I am merely speaking from the way we Reformed Baptists see it with our concerns.) Could it be that infant baptism gave rise to the Federal Vision? Could it be that the Federal Vision is kind of a halfway house to Rome or the East? Could it be that all of this is because Reformed paedobaptist theology flattens out the covenants so much that it has a Judaizing element to it, notwithstanding the fact that, to its credit, it does uphold justification by faith alone? This is why I am a Reformed Baptist. Christ Himself is the glory of the New Covenant! As my pastor told me: preaching through the book of Hebrews made him even more of a Baptist. I now see why, praise God!
I will do more extensive and specific critiques of Eastern Orthodoxy as well as interact with Mr. Dyer's opening statement in my rebuttal to his opening statement. I again thank my debate opponent for interacting with me and the claims of Reformed Baptist theology.
Mr. Dyer, you now have the floor for your rebuttal to my opening statement.