The baptism debate is one that hotly contested within Christian circles. Is baptism something that is strictly reserved for believers, or is it an extension of the Old Covenant and should be practiced with infants? According to Foundations of Pentecostal Theology, “Jesus himself, set an example for His church by submitting to baptism by His forerunner, John the Baptist.” The book Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ uses Scripture and theology to develop a convincing case for believer’s baptism. The book is a collection of articles from different theologians, and is edited by Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Shawn D. Wright also of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The introduction makes the editor’s intentions clear from the onset. The editor’s state, “The authors are promoting ‘credobaptism’, that is, the doctrine that Christian baptism should be reserved for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.” They are writing to correct a form of theology known as “Paedobaptism.” Theologian Wayne Grudem states in regards to this, “It is called a ‘covenant’ argument because it depends on seeing infants born to believers as part of the ‘covenant community’ of God’s people.”
Schreiner and Wright organize the argument in ten very unique chapters. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of theology and history. In fact they organized in such a way that chapters one through four deal with the case using biblical exegesis , chapters five through nine use history and theology, and chapter ten discusses baptism in regards to the local church.
In the first chapter, Andreas J. Kostenberger, makes a critical examination of all words relating to baptism in the Gospels. His conclusion is that baptism was most likely by immersion for believers who have repented. Theologian G.W. Bromiley echoes this sentiment when he states, “Deriving from the Greek baptisma, ‘baptism’ denotes the action of plunging in water.” A fair representation of the baptism on the Gospels was made, and it laid a great foundation for the rest of the book. Chapter two through three deal with how baptism is viewed in the rest of the New Testament.
The real gem of the work is the historicity that it provides for baptism. The authors discuss how baptism was historically given from the patristics to the present. This alone makes the work an essential reference tool. As previously stated the study set out to correct the errors of those who hold to paedobaptism. The work lays out a compelling case that consists of biblical exegesis, theology, and history.
The issue at hand is that of baptism, and if it is an ordinance for professing believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are many in Christendom who believe that infant baptism is a continuation of covenant theology, and that is a New Testament type of circumcision. The goal is to counter those, mainly in the Reformed tradition, who hold to baptizing infants as sign of God’s covenant. The view being opposed was dealt with at length in a very respectable fashion which of itself was very refreshing.
The book was well organized, and guided the reader from the beginning of the New Testament, through history, and all the way to the present. The sixth chapter was interesting as the author, Johnathan H. Rainbow, discusses the reformation leader Ulrich Zwingli and the beginnings of the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptists were very influential in the reemergence of believes baptism. Dr. Rainbow states in his article, “It is not the insistence that baptismal recipients be believes that distinguishes Baptist theology, but the definition of a ‘believer’ as a person who confesses Christ freely and intelligently with his or her own mouth .”
Dr. Schreiner writes a chapter about baptism in the epistles in chapter three. From the onset he tackles an objection that some have. If baptism was so important to believers in the New Testament then why it was hardly mentioned? In regards to this Dr. Schreiner writes, “It is striking that there is no sustained discussion of baptism in any of the epistles, presumably because the NT authors were writing to those who were already believers to whom the significance of baptism was explained at their conversion.” Dr. Schreiner then discusses passages such as 1 Peter 3:21, Ephesians 4:5, and 1 Corinthians 12:13. At face value then seem to lend credence to the paedobaptist point, but when seen in the proper context that is far from the case. Dr. Schreiner ends his chapter by emphasizing that those who practice infant baptism are allowing the unregenerate to be part of their community.
Though most of the book makes a very strong case for believer’s baptism there was a weakness detected. This occurs in Chapter two which is Dr. Robert H. Stein’s article about baptism in the Gospel of Luke. Dr. Stein writes that repentance, faith, and baptism are a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. The weakness occurs when he states that there are times when baptism is mentioned and the Spirit is not. This apparent weakness was also mentioned in another review of the book. In his review Stewart Maclean Jr. writes, “While Stein never states that baptism is a requirement for salvation, only for reception of the Holy Spirit, he completely misses the symbolic or identificatory aspect of baptism. In my opinion, this mistake leads him down the road to reformation theology.”
From a ministerial standpoint the proper understanding of baptism is essential. The theology of the authors is the same as that of the student in that baptism is a sign of an inward change. It is to be administered to those who have a conscious faith in Jesus Christ. This book is useful for the pastor in that it gives the proper exegetical and historical background of baptism. It is useful for the scholar as it provides great resources in this important debate. The layman will also benefit because it is useful in apologetics and strengthening one’s faith.
This book is a very beneficial edition to one’s theological library. The historical presentations of baptism were extremely helpful in gaining a proper understanding between credobaptism and paedobaptism. The scholarship presented in the volume is very thoughtful and helpful. Throughout the importance of baptism was not minimized, but its importance also was not overemphasized. Reading the work will strengthen one’s position in believer’s baptism, and will also give them roots to defend the position against those whom would oppose or minimize it.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los Angeles, CA: Life Bible College, 1983.
Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.
Maclean, Stewart. SharpeIron (blog). http://sharperiron.org/article/book-review-believer%E2%80%99s-baptism.
Schreiner, Thomas R., and Shawn D. Wright, eds. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Nashville, TN: B&h Publishing, 2006.