A little over a year ago, I wrote on this blog that I was going to begin a thorough study of the doctrine and practice of baptism. Though I haven’t written much on it since, my studies continue, and my personal views on baptism are maturing. At some point (though I don’t know when I’ll feel ready) I want to spend time writing some serious reflections on what I’m learning, but for now I can at least share the short version.
While I remain a committed credobaptist, my understanding of other viewpoints is much better. My hope is that this will allow me to be more gracious toward those with whom I differ on this doctrine, and better able to articulate why I am a Baptist. Best of all, I am developing an appreciation for how challenging the issue is, and how important baptism is to Christian faith. Before I began my study, I was guilty of what Jonathan Leeman (in an article I’ll link below) calls the second of two errors that Christians tend to have regarding baptism:
There are two opposite errors that evangelical Christians easily stumble into on the topic of baptism: we treat it with too little or too much importance…
The solution to the first error is to recognize that baptism may not be essential, but it is important. The solution to the second is to realize that baptism is important, but not essential. In short, Christians need at least three categories for setting theological priorities: essential, important, and unimportant. We often miss that middle category, and act as if everything is either essential or completely unimportant.
This is from Leeman’s excellent review of Baptism: Three Views edited by David Wright. I’ve not written reviews of any of the baptism books I’ve read, but I could not have done a better job of reviewing this one than Leeman. It’s worth your time to check it out!
I really only have one thing to add to the above review. Like Leeman, I found it difficult to approach the book as an objective reader, as hard as I tried to do so. But when I was feeling most objective, I found Bruce Ware’s arguments to be the least persuasive. Maybe this is because his were the points with which I was already most familiar, or maybe it was because I was consciously trying to be sympathetic to the other viewpoints, but I was disappointed that the Baptist view seemed (at least upon first reading) to be the weakest argument in the book.
Jonathan Leeman may have pinpointed the reason for this in his review. The nature of the covenantal paedobaptist position “requires greater theological sophistication and canonical sensitivity” than the credobaptist position, because of the different hermeneutic principles utilized by the two sides. For this reason, Sinclair Ferguson’s defense of infant baptism was perhaps better suited to this format. Ware’s defense of believer baptism seemed simple by comparison to Ferguson’s nuanced and sophisticated reasoning… but maybe that’s the whole point?
Anyway, here are some of the other books I’ve read on baptism, which I’ll hopefully get around to reviewing in detail later:
- Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul Jewitt — Though it has infant baptism in the title, this book was written as a refutation of the practice. John Piper attributed much of his confidence in believer’s baptism to Jewitt’s work in this book, so I was intrigued. I didn’t find it quite as compelling as Piper made it sound, though he certainly builds a strong case.
- To A Thousand Generations: Infant Baptism — Covenant Mercy to the Children of God by Douglas Wilson — Of the books I’ve read from a paedobaptist position, this has been the best. Interestingly, Wilson’s church, while Presbyterian, is a dual-practice church, leaving the decision in the hands of parents on whether to baptize children as infants or after a profession of faith. I previously attended a church with a similar stance on baptism, so it’s an idea that intrigues me.
- The God I Never Knew: How Real Friendship With the Holy Spirit Can Change Your Life by Robert Morris — I read this one in part because it talks at length about the Pentecostal teaching of a third “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. While there are probably better examples of this position out there, this one was a complete waste of time, bordering on the heretical. Here’s my full review.
- Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Tom Schreiner — Though I’ve not yet read every essay in this book, when it’s all said and done I’m likely going to concur with the many baptist pastors who have told me that this is the best book available on the side of believer’s baptism.