This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2010 vol. 167 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Baptism: Three ViewsIVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL August 18, 2009
The editor of this book, David F. Wright, died while the work was in progress. He was professor of patristic and Reformation Christianity, New College, Edinburgh, Scotland. Each of three proponents presents his case on water baptism, the others respond, and then each contributor gives a summarizing statement.
Bruce A. Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, presents the believers’ baptism view. Sinclair B. Ferguson, senior minister at First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina, argues for infant baptism. And Anthony N. S. Lane, professor of historical theology at the London School of Theology, Northwood, England, presents a view that combines both believers’ baptism and infant baptism.
Ware notes that in the several “household conversions” in the Book of Acts no mention is made of infants (p. 34). Lane responds to this by saying, “That does not prove that there were none” (p. 63). However, Ware says that this is a weak response, for it is an argument from silence. He also notes that the absence of any instruction in the Scriptures to adopt infant baptism in place of circumcision is “simply incredible” (p. 72). Later he writes, “The absence both of any clear and convincing example of infant baptism in the New Testament and the absence of any apostolic teaching that baptism had taken the place of circumcision—both of these silences, as it were—are significant and loud, especially when set alongside the abundance of examples of believers’ baptism” (p. 117).
A serious problem with infant baptism, as Ware observes, is that “paedobaptist churches are necessarily afflicted with the problem of a potentially significant number of unregenerate church members” (p. 50). Viewing infants as “children of the covenant . . . can cause children and parents to forget that these baptized children are sinners in need of personal salvation through personal faith in Jesus Christ” (p. 75).
Lane concurs with this. “Infant baptism can lead those raised in Christian homes to imagine that they are already Christians and do not need to make a personal response of faith” (pp. 167–68). Yet he says that though “the New Testament evidence for the baptism of infants is inconclusive . . . at least some passages may be plausibly interpreted as implying that infants were baptized” (pp. 160–61). Clearly it is an ungrounded assumption for him to state that the three thousand converts on the Day of Pentecost “must have had many children of every age” (p. 144). Even if children of various ages were there, this in no way proves that infants were there and were converted and/or baptized.
In defending infant baptism Ferguson makes much of Romans 4:11a, “He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” He asks, “By what reasoning can this description of circumcision be transferred to baptism?” Then he answers, “Baptism functions in relationship to the new covenant in Christ in a manner analogous to the function of circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant.” But what is that relationship? He answers, “In a word, baptism has the same symbolic significance in relationship to fellowship with God as did circumcision.” That “same core symbolism is that both point to the same promise . . . and to the regenerative divine indicative and conversion response” including regeneration, cleansing, and repentance (p. 87). In response Ware notes that circumcision marked Israel as a distinct ethnic people of God (p. 115) and that “Paul makes no connection here [in Rom. 4:11a] between Abraham’s circumcision and new covenant baptism” (p. 118). Nor does Colossians 2:10–11 link baptism with circumcision. Similarly Lane observes that “the New Testament nowhere explicitly links baptism with the theme of covenant” (p. 122).
Readers committed to the scriptural teaching that salvation is by grace alone will be surprised that Lane affirms that “baptism is part of Christian initiation by which people become Christians” (p. 142). Arguing against Lane’s view on dual-practice baptism, Ferguson states that no evidence for this diversity exists in the New Testament nor in the writings of the church fathers (p. 182).
This book can help Christians understand their church’s practice and the practice of other churches in baptism.
—Roy B. Zuck