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The Foster Wineskins Article Again:
Second Mistake Worse than the First

By J. E. Choate

religion, articles, christianity

Douglas A. Foster's article "The New Birth and Christian Unity" appeared in Wineskins, May 1992. In critique of this article, two facts were noted clearly. First, the article attempted to prove that David Lipscomb taught one is saved by faith before baptism. Foster stated his view of Lipscomb's teaching: "He (Lipscomb) began his teaching with the clear statement that the faith which precedes baptism marks the point of salvation." The fact is, this was never the teaching of David Lipscomb. Here Foster seriously erred.

Second, Foster tried to defend his mistake about Lipscomb's teaching concerning faith, baptism, and salvation by quoting these words as being from David Lipscomb:

There is no one thing taught with greater clearness in the New Testament than that the new birth precedes and qualifies for baptism. Faith unites and makes us one with Christ, and such a believer is a Christian, and saved, not with a conditional but with an everlasting salvation ("Queries on Baptism," Gospel Advocate 1873, p. 1146).

As a matter of fact, these words were written by James R. Graves, a Landmark Baptist preacher, who was being quoted by Lipscomb so as to respond to the mistakes of Graves. Foster attributed the words of James R. Graves to David Lipscomb!

Now, Foster has attempted to defend his handling of Lipscomb by reference to statements I made concerning an uncited "phantom quote" which was also given in the article. This attempt fails hands down.

The key to unlocking the two blunders made by Douglas A. Foster in his 1992 Wineskins article, "The New Birth and Christian Unity," is tucked away in a single statement in his 1987 doctoral thesis titled "The Struggle for Unity During the Period of Division (1875-1900)." The statement reads: "While he (Lipscomb) wrote on at least two occasions that the faith which precedes baptism was the point of salvation." The first such alleged occasion grew out of his mishandling the words of a Landmark Baptist preacher and ascribing them to Lipscomb.

The next problem addresses the second occasion when Lipscomb asserted that the faith which precedes baptism marks the point of salvation in another context. This is what I termed the search for the "phantom quote." Lipscomb never made such a definitive statement once or any number of times.

In a statement titled "Concerning Attacks on Wineskins Article 'David Lipscomb's Middle Way"' written by Dr. Foster, he tried but failed to end my search for the "phantom quote." He cites an 1898 article of Lipscomb, "The Holy Spirit," in the Gospel Advocate where he locates the "phantom" words. A person with Dr. Foster's credentials must have had something in mind in the Wineskins article.

In his statement, Dr. Foster wrote:

J. E. Choate, in an article in the Firm Foundation and Yokefellow, the bulletin of the Memphis School of Preaching, has accused me of fabricating a quote found at the bottom of page 20 and the top of page 21 (in Wineskins, May 1992). The quote in hand reads, 'The person who believes is just as much the begotten of the Father, the child of God, before it is baptized as it is afterwards.'

Yes, David Lipscomb wrote these words, but he most certainly did not use them in the sense that Dr. Foster would have us believe, i.e., that Lipscomb was saying that salvation comes by faith before baptism.

The following Wineskins copy is the place in the Foster article where I began my quest for the "phantom quote" wherein Lipscomb stated that the faith which precedes baptism marks the point of salvation.

Lipscomb saw himself occupying a position between the two extremes. He began his teaching with the clear statement that the faith that precedes baptism marks the point of salvation. [Here the quest for the 'phantom quote' begins.] The person who believes is just as much the begotten of the Father, the child of God before it is baptized as it is afterwards. ...

(Dr. Foster, you know that Lipscomb was addressing the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and not the scriptural process of the "new birth.")

Here are the questions for Dr. Foster: Where is the documentation that Lipscomb pictures himself as ever occupying "middle ground" on a scriptural issue? Where is your documented proof that Lipscomb ever said that salvation comes at the point of faith before baptism? Dr. Foster, if you misunderstood the Landmark quote (and I believe you did), do you not see that Lipscomb was not addressing the "new birth" in the 1898 editorial titled "The Holy Spirit"? This may be only your inference, but why do you not say so?

I am frank to say that at first I had no idea that Dr. Foster was using the 1898 editorial quote as being the second place where Lipscomb was supposed to be stating that the "new birth precedes and qualifies for baptism." I now understand his (Foster's) contention. My quest for the "phantom quote" continues. However, that quest will prove to be as fruitless as the search for the "Holy Grail."

Foster identified his source as an 1898 editorial of Lipscomb titled "The Holy Spirit." I hastened to the David Lipscomb University library to read the article. Then it dawned on me that a brother with biblical credentials and I had read the editorial a year before. It did not occur to either of us then that Lipscomb was making the point that the new birth precedes and qualifies for baptism. Lipscomb had another matter entirely in his mind. He was combating the Baptist doctrine that the Holy Spirit works apart from the Word of God. My re-reading the article (July 9) cleared up the whole matter. Dr. Foster could not have missed the point of the article, and he failed to mention the fact that Lipscomb was solely addressing the operation of the Holy Spirit. Dr. Foster made a case where a case was never intended.

In reality, Lipscomb was addressing the process of both natural and spiritual births, but not in the misleading sense that is suggested (by Dr. Foster). Lipscomb was setting tip two analogies to explain the processes of a viable natural birth and the viable spiritual birth. In the light of modern genetics, the unborn fetus carries the seed and genes of the natural father while in the womb and after birth. Lipscomb continues his analogy to show that the seed of the kingdom first sown in the heart comes to full fruition in the spiritual birth --- "both of water and the Spirit." Lipscomb lets us know in both cases that the unborn fetus could be aborted unless the natural and spiritual conditions are met.

Dr. Foster, I have accused you of nothing because that would make me your adversary. I am certain that you never pictured me in such a light in the years you were in Lipscomb. We are addressing matters concerning the church which is troubled and being torn apart across the country. Dr. Foster, you have invited upon yourself another problem created in your Wineskins article which cannot be summarily dismissed by a person with your scholarly credentials.

It is easy to understand why the Wineskins editors were so eager to print and defend your May 1992 Wineskins article claiming that the "new birth precedes and qualifies for baptism." Brother Shelly believes and states there are good Christians in all denominations. It is God who identifies such and not Dr. Shelly. What is so puzzling to understand is that Dr. Foster seems to know so little about the fundamental teachings of David Lipscomb regarding baptism and the new birth. How is it that Dr. Foster ascribed the words of a Landmark Baptist preacher to David Lipscomb?

What is even more surprising is that Dr. Foster would lift the words of David Lipscomb out of one context and force them into another context. The 1873 Gospel Advocate article showed Lipscomb combating the Baptist concept that salvation comes at the point of faith before baptism. In the 1898 Gospel Advocate article, Lipscomb is addressing the operation of the Holy Spirit and draws analogies between a natural birth and the new (spiritual) birth.

Indeed, Dr. Foster, I did misunderstand your intent in the place you identify in the Wineskins article (pp. 20-21) which is a part of an analogy that Lipscomb used in the 1898 editorial to make the point that both the natural and spiritual births begin and end with the "seed of the father" as a continuous process before and after birth. Dr. Foster, I do not think that it was your intent to misapply the analogies of David Lipscomb as you have, but you have done so. I think in the Graves' quote, as well as in the 1898 editorial, it all boils down to a matter of "sloppy" scholarship.

When I make a historical "gaff," I find it the better part of wisdom to admit it.


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Published September 1993