• God’s Infants? A Reflection on Why I will Never Parent as an Evangelical Christian

    You’re pregnant! Now all the joy and worries related to childbirth concatenate into an orgy of emotional expression. You know, worries like: financing, medical checks, potential risks, its eternal salvation, and… wait, what?  That’s right. A new human means a whole new chance of rejecting Jesus Christ’s offer of salvation once it makes it to an age of accountability. The point of my writing is to challenge this vague idea of an “age of accountability” by striking at it indirectly. That is, rather than attacking the concept itself I want to show how evangelical theology damns a child prior to any age of accountability.

    Against the Calvinist

    Christians of this stripe (particularly those Calvinist types) accept biblical concepts of Original Sin and of being born in guilt. Accordingly, the story goes that the first parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God, bringing the curse of sin not only upon them (in a spiritual and physical sense) but also upon all of creation. In one way or another, the progeny of Adam and Eve (all of mankind) are born into this depraved context both spiritually/physically and contextually while, at the same time, bearing the guilt of these first sinners. Guilt, as used here, is not to be intended primarily as an emotional feeling as it is an objective state of being. We are guilty in the sense one is found guilty in a court of law; it is a legal declaration. I hate to break it to you, but if you thought you were pissing God off by being an Atheist, His wrath was burning against you before you took your first breath!

    Another aspect of fundamentalist teaching concerns the area of how sinners can be granted God’s saving graces. Since the Reformation, Protestant Christians have been (nearly) uniform that it is only by faith in Jesus Christ alone, by the grace of God, that one is declared righteous (or, synonymously, justified) before God. The subject of justification is much debated, but the core thought is that by placing saving faith in Jesus Christ (his life lived sinlessly and his death that satisfied God’s wrath toward sinners) his righteousness is imputed to us thereby giving God legal grounds for declaring us righteous. The key here is the integral role faith plays in a sinner’s salvation: apart from faith in Jesus Christ a sinner cannot be justified before God.

    These discussions (of Original Sin, guilt, faith, and justification) combine to create a wall that divides infants from God’s saving grace. Actually, it’s a lot like asking a dead man to come back to life. Here’s my reasoning against the Calvinist set out plainly:

    1. All humans are born in sin
    2. All sin requires either,
      1. (a) God’s wrath on the sinner, or
      2. (b) God’s wrath on Jesus Christ in the place of the sinner
      3. All (a) receive God’s wrath
      4. All (b) are justified by their faith
      5. Infants do not exercise faith in Christ (in fact, they cannot)
      6. Therefore, infants receive God’s eternal wrath.

    Reformed philosopher-theologian, Paul Helm, makes a case in his book Faith With Reason that faith involves an assent to the propositional content of the gospel message along with an active trust in the Person those propositions are about. I believe it is indisputable that an infant is incapable of such commitment. Worse still is how this fact, coupled with being born in guilt and, thus, the bearer of God’s wrath, leads inevitably to eternal damnation. For God to grant an infant mercy apart from it having faith in Jesus Christ would be paramount to God breaking the law (in this case Law, with a capital L).

    Most respond with the claim that God regenerates, otherwise known as the New Birth; that God enacts change of a person’s moral disposition, affected on the infant by an act of grace. This regenerative act, they claim, justifies the infant before God. The more rhetoric they spit in trying to explain away this problem, the less convincing it is to the reader with a critical eye!  For one, regeneration and justification are (as far as I’ve ever seen) universally disparate concepts as understood by theologians, especially Reformed theologians. Giving regeneration an essential property of justification proper is tantamount to a theological category mistake. Secondly, allowing regeneration to justify a person apart from faith defies the very orthodoxy of Reformed Protestantism which understands the faith of an individual as a necessary component of salvation.

    Against the Arminians

    Dr. David K. Clark, a professed Arminian (at least in relation to this question), believes his Arminian position is able to pass through the horns of my dilemma by stating that people are not born in guilt. Rather we are born with the inability to not sin; that is, we cannot avoid acts of sin. This puts infants off the hook since they aren’t guilty until they actually sin. This is pretty vague since Arminians, like Calvinists, believe a sinner can only be saved by faith alone. But whereas I believe infants do not have the ability to exercise faith it appears Dr. Clark is implying that infants do not need to have faith until they reach a certain epistemic maturity. But if faith is necessary to be accepted before God, how can someone stained by sin come before God apart from faith?  What I need to do then is make my previous argument rotate around acceptance before God rather than guilt. Thus, making it look like this:

    1. All infant perfection is marred by Adamic sin.
    2. All infants who are marred by sin are either,
      1. (a) made perfect before God by faith in Jesus Christ, or
      2. (b) accepted by God in spite of imperfection and lack of faith, or
      3. (c) rejected by God as imperfect and without faith in Jesus.
      4. Infants cannot exercise faith (contra (a)).
      5. Imperfection is incompatible with God’s character (contra (b)).
      6. Therefore, (c).

    The careful reader will note immediately that this argument does not rely on any appeal to God’s justice or legal terminology. Rather, it makes appeal to the character of God and the need to be perfect in His sight. I’m still waiting for Dr. Clark’s reply.

    Degrees of Faith and the Curious Case of Dr. Alexander Pruss

    By far my most interesting response came from Dr. Pruss of BaylorUniversity. Faith, according to Pruss, is accepting Jesus to the extent one is able. He believes the ability of the infant is very small, but he thinks that by grace one can receive such ability. (This is strange because which is it: does the infant have or not have the ability to exercise faith?)  Let’s get right to my argument against Pruss’s belief in a universal faith-ability and where A in the argument is my hypothetical infant:

    1. That everyone has the ability to exercise faith in Jesus may or may not be the case.
    2. Anyone who has the proper propositional content about—and relationship with—Jesus is exercising faith.
    3. But A did not exercise faith in Jesus.
    4. Therefore, either,
      1. (a) had the cognitive and relational ability to do so and chose not to, or
      2. (b) A did not have the cognitive and relational ability to do so.
      3. A did not have the cognitive and relational ability to do so.
      4. Therefore, A was not able to do so.
      5. Therefore, it is not the case that everyone has the ability to exercise faith in Jesus.

    Now Pruss would probably take issue with (3). Remember, that according to him faith is accepting Jesus to the extent that one is able. I, however, am not certain what accepting Jesus means if it is not at least a relational quality (even this is difficult since you have a relationship with someone, which includes the proposition that they are a someone). But even if the propositional-content element is removed from my argument it works just as easily against Pruss’s position.


    Of the three perspectives examined we can see that most arguments for an infant’s ability to be saved is based either on the idea that infants do not need to exercise faith until they’ve reached an uncertain age of cognitive maturity, or in some way or another infants can exercise faith. Christian’s have reasons for infant salvation that range from having been baptized or elected by God to being a “covenant child” or being without any actual sin committed. But as long as there is some appeal to Original Sin every infant that dies does so under the displeasing wrath of God, whether you interpret Original Sin to be an imperfection or a legal declaration of guilt. And this is exactly why I would never parent as an evangelical Christian.

    Category: Theology


    Article by: Bryant Cody Rudisill