What Happens to Infants When They Die?
What happens to infants or young children who die before becoming cognizant of sin and salvation? Gerald Harris (of the Christian Index) poses that question to the Southern Baptist ‘Calvinism Advisory Committee’ in an editorial entitled “A New Kind of Calvinism” (and linked to on Peter Lumpkins’ blog, Synergism Tomorrow). The Calvinism Advisory Committee, lead by Frank Page, was designed to come to a peaceable understanding between Calvinists and Synergists in the SBC. As expected, the committee put forward a statement urging cooperation between the two camps. For Harris, however, there were some stones left unturned by the committee that he would like answered.
The committee’s statement in question was, “We agree that most Southern Baptists believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven through the grace of God and the atonement of Christ, even as they differ as to why this is so.”
Harris says that he was “troubled” by the statement, instead desiring a ‘convictional’ statement and not an acknowledgment of the “breadth of representation” (diversity) within the SBC on this issue. Although Harris acknowledges that Danny Akin and Al Mohler have both confessed belief that those who die in infancy are among the elect, Eric Hankins (you might remember Hankins from his stirring up strife in the “Traditional Statement” prior to his running for 2nd VP of the SBC last year and his ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ resolution) suggested that certain members of the Calvinism Advisory Committee “were not comfortable” stating that all who die in infancy go to Heaven. Surely Hankins wouldn’t stir up unnecessary strife, would he?
Harris also quotes unashamed semi-Pelagian Adam Harwood (who denies the classical definition of ‘Original Sin’) as saying that there are Calvinists in the SBC who now (as opposed to earlier in history) believe certain infants go to hell. Harris ends by saying, “I am getting the distinct impression that many who embrace a reformed theology in the Southern Baptist Convention are beginning to feel very uncomfortable with the new kind of Calvinism very unlike the reformed theology of Charles Spurgeon, David Livingstone, William Carey, James Petigru Boyce, Carl F.H. Henry, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.”
Peter Lumpkins takes Hankin’s and Harwood’s unfounded accusations and goes one step further – by naming the committee members we should speculate believe infants are damned at death: Tom Ascol and Mark Dever.
It appears that Lumpkins has again suffered from foot-in-mouth disease, as it was pointed out in the comments section following the post, Mark Dever has explicitly confessed belief that infants are heaven-bound (click here for audio). In the meantime, a search for an Ascol quotation declaring the damnation of babies is still forthcoming.
The accusation of a “New Calvinism” is not only flawed, it is silly. As the waves of #DOWNGRADE continue to wash the semi-Pelagian contingent of the Southern Baptist Convention further out to the sea, the shore is further and further away from their view. The waves of post-modernism clearly distort their view of that solid shoreline of consistent theology, no doubt making it appear that we are further and further away. The truth, of course, is that they are further away. The doctrines commonly called ‘Calvinism’ remain unchanged in the SBC, as do its adherents.
The discussion of infant mortality has more to do with emotionalism and demonization of theological opponents than serious scholarship. Semi-Pelagians like Harwood don’t believe we’re born guilty, and so infants are safe from judgment. Calvinists believe that God’s graciousness is given even (and especially) to the guilty. Piper, for example, points to Romans 1 to explain that those who are cognizant of God’s creation are “without excuse,” which would lead one to believe that if someone is not cognizant of God’s creation, they are with an excuse (click here for link). Other Calvinists, like MacArthur, turn to the Book of Job, Ecclesiastes and Psalms that seem to indicate children who die in infancy are safe from judgment (click here for link). This is no departure from Spurgeon’s teaching on the subject (click here for link).
Semi-Pelagians seem to think this is a “gotcha” – a pointed finger of accusation toward perceived inconsistency. If Calvinists believe we are born guilty, then we must believe infants go to hell (being able to distinguish imputed guilt from personal guilt) – or so the argument goes. What they fail to realize is that everyone who believes in infant salvation is inconsistent in their soteriology when it comes to this subject. The Arminian who believes that faith is a requirement for salvation is at a loss to explain why an infant is entitled to the reward of Heaven, given that an infant does not profess faith in Christ. At the end of the day, we’re all better off giving the Potter the right to do what he wants with the clay, albeit acknowledging the Potter’s good nature leads us to believes he saves the helpless.
The difference between the two camps is that Calvinists, by and large, refuse to make up a doctrine to answer a difficult question. There is not a so-called “age of accountability” in Scripture. It’s simply not there. At the end of the day, we have to take the attitude of King David and believe (as he did) that our infants are in Heaven on account of the graciousness of God. The Calvinist, in sheer Biblical commitment is going to say, “at the end of the day, God has this handled.” Perhaps that’s not good enough for our semi-Pelagian friends. They want answers, a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ And even though virtually all Calvinists (all that I’ve ever known) will confess a belief that infants who die are with Christ, semi-Pelagians are not comfortable leaving the issue of salvation in the hands of God. After all, the notion of God being in sovereign control over salvation is what they find so reprehensible about Calvinism in the first place.
It seems that Harris’ accusation comes from the fact that some of the committee members did not respond to his email (how dare they!). He says, “Some did not respond and one would have to conclude that they did not receive my emails, they simply chose not to respond, or they were hesitant to acknowledge personally that they affirm that certain infants who die are not among the elect and will suffer judgment in hell.”
If possible, name a Southern Baptist with Reformed leanings of any prominence who believes in infant damnation. Unless Peter Lumpkins and Gerald Harris can do this, we can consider this just one more straw man set aflame.
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