Sunday, May 10, 2015

Book Review: "Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ"

Last week my good friend Dave Fergus and I read Believer's Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ, edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright (Nashville: B & H, 2006). It's a bit of an older book, but it's still to my mind the best modern statement of the arguments for believer's baptism available. 

The book begins with a foreword by Timothy George that is so moving I forgot it was only a foreword! George argues that while baptism is not a level one gospel issue over which we must divide in a substantial sense, it is yet an important issue about which we should seek biblical understanding and agreement. And for Baptists, developing a "robust doctrine of believer's baptism can serve as an antidote to the theological minimalism and atomistic individualism that prevail in many Baptist churches in our culture" (xvii). The doctrine of baptism matters because the gospel matters--surely on this all sides can agree! 

From this foundational starting point, the editors go on to offer a helpful introduction to the subject and the book, which is followed by three chapters that consider the NT teaching about baptism in the gospels, the book of Acts, and the epistles, respectively. Perhaps the key chapter of the book, written by Stephen J. Wellum, is entitled "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants." This chapter tackles the issues raised by reformed thinkers, beginning with Calvin, and seeks to offer a biblical response thereto. In my mind, this chapter deals the death blow to all forms of paedobaptism (that is, infant-baptism) and demonstrates that credo-baptism (that is, baptizing only those who have consciously believed in Jesus Christ) is the only way to properly honor the text of Scripture and the gospel which baptism signifies. 

Be that as it may, the book moves on to offer chapters on the doctrine of baptism as taught by the early church fathers, the baptistic reformers, and the non-baptistic reformers. It closes out with two chapters on specific issues that will interest only specialists, and one chapter that discusses practical matters relating to baptism in the life of the local church, that is, local churches that already embrace credo-baptism. 

I am a long-time baptist by conviction rather than tradition, so I picked up this book as a convinced advocate of believer's baptism as Baptists have traditionally understood it. But I still benefited from this book for the following reasons: 

1. It helped me to sharpen my thinking about the importance and practice of believer's baptism. 

2. It helped me to understand paedobaptists with more depth of insight so that when I interface with them (ok, debate them), I can better understand their point of view and address what they actually believe. 

3. It broadened my perspective on the teaching of the church regarding baptism through the centuries. 

4. As a Pastor, it offered me some counsel that I found useful for the practice of baptism at Glory of Christ Fellowship, especially with regard to the age at which we should baptize younger people. 

5. It will now serve as a reference tool for those occasions on which I need to teach or debate the doctrine of baptism. 

I highly recommend this book and pray that the Lord will continue to use it to persuade many to come to a more biblical view of the doctrine and practice of baptism. 

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