- Paperback: 200 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (September 10, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0830838562
- ISBN-13: 978-0830838561
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #557,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Baptism: Three Views
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"If you're undecided on when baptism is proper, or if your mind is made up but you want to understand why equally faithful Christians have an opposite position to yours, read Baptism: Three Views." (Marvin Olasky, WORLD, August 15, 2009)
"Regardless of one's theological stance on baptism, the essays in this volume will serve to sharpen and challenge. . . This volume can be very helpful in a variety of venues and climates if people are willing to engage the issue openly and to give an honest hearing of divergent opinions." (Brian Allred, Mid-America Journal of Theology, October 2010)
"This book can help Christians understand their church's practice and the practice of other churches in baptism." (Roy B. Zuch, Bibiolotheca Sacra, April-June 2010)
"Baptism engages the reader by using etymological examples, contextual examples from Scripture, historical examples, and many other illustrations to draw conclusions, challenge preconceived notions, and point out weaknesses in each argument. The book is geared toward seminary students or pastors seeking to clarify their positions and better understand the positions of others, but is equally engaging for the average reader who has perhaps never fully investigated his personal beliefs on the subject. (Rachel Lonas, Pulpit Helps, August 2009)
"If one is looking for a good read on the issues surrounding believer's baptism versus infant baptism, with a hybrid third option thrown in for good measure, then Baptism: Three Views is a recommended place to start." (Rustin Umstattd, Midwestern Journal of Theology, 2009)
About the Author
David F. Wright (1937-2008) was professor of patristic and Reformation Christianity at New College, University of Edinburgh. He wrote a number of books on both historical and theological topics.
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The structure of the book is that each scholar gives his argument for his own position using biblical, theological, and historical support. After each presentation - the other two author's counter, and the presenter responds to the two counter arguments. Such is the case for each presentation.
(1) Bruce Ware argues for credobaptism - "only those who have already become believers in Christ should be baptized and that this baptism should be by immersion in water." In his biblical defense of believers' baptism he gives an abundance of linguistic and contextual support for baptism by immersion from the New Testament (NT - from this point on). He then shows that every clear instance of baptism in the NT relates to the baptism of those who have repented of sin and come to faith in Christ. In this section he highlights and discusses eleven passages from the book of Acts where Luke presents a clear and unambiguous depiction of baptism as being performed only on believers. Next he shows the absence of non believers' baptism in the NT. He then presents a case against infant baptism from its absence in the NT.
In the theological section of his essay he gives a thorough presentation of the meaning of the new covenant and what remains the same and what has changed from the OT to the NT. He writes, "If the NT writers genuinely saw a parallel between physical circumcision and infant baptism, it is utterly remarkable that they never said so in the NT....As I endeavor to explain, the fact that circumcision functioned at two levels, both for the ethnic and national people of Israel and for the spiritual reality of being separated unto God, indicates that the sign and seal of baptism simply is not meant to be seen as parallel to circumcision...That is not to deny any relation between circumcision and baptism. Where circumcision and baptism are parallel is exactly where Colossians 2:11-12 see them as parallel, namely, in the spiritual reality to which each of them points...In short, the parallel between circumcision and baptism in the new covenant is not between physical circumcision and infant baptism; rather, the parallel is between spiritual circumcision of the heart and baptism, which signifies regeneration, faith and union with Christ...So then, since only the actual spiritual reality is in view when one is baptized, the sign and seal of baptism relates only to those who have experienced this spiritual reality, that is, to believers in Jesus Christ. The new covenant encompasses only those who know the Lord, those who have been united with Christ, those in whom the Spirit has come to dwell through faith. As such, baptism, the sign and seal of this reality (i.e., not of the promise but of the reality itself), applies rightly only to believers in Jesus Christ."
One of the most interesting quotes from the historical arguments in his essay comes from a passage in Justin's Apology quoted in Stander and Louw on what was required by a person before he was accepted for baptism in the early church (100-165 A.D.), "firstly, the person had to believe in the truth of the Christian doctrine; secondly, he had to undertake to live accordingly; thirdly, the baptismal candidate had to undergo a period of devotion and fasting in which he had to request God to forgive all his past sins...Since only mature persons could satisfy these preconditions, it undoubtedly excludes the possibility that infants were involved in these activities." Examples like this one show that infant baptism did not develop in any significant way until the fourth century.
Dr. Ware concludes his essay giving two practical ramifications that believers' baptism provides for the health and well-being of the church: "First, the practice of credobaptism has the potential of providing a young Christian a wonderful and sacred opportunity to certify personally and testify publicly of his own identity, now, as a follower of Christ...Second, the practice of credobaptism grounds the regenerate membership of the church...If membership in the new covenant and hence in the church comes via infant baptism, yet salvation comes only by faith, then it follows that paedobaptist churches are necessarily afflicted with the problem of a potentially significant number of unregenerate church members."
(2) Sinclair Ferguson argues for paedobaptism - "baptism is the sign and seal of the new covenant work of Christ and is analogous to circumcision, which was the sign of the old covenant of Israel. The biblical continuity between the covenants demands that infants of believers be baptized in addition to those who come to Christ at any age. The mode of baptism is not at issue." Dr. Ferguson's essay traces the evidence for infant baptism starting with the historical evidence from the post-apostolic period onward; then provides a biblical and theological perspective (redemptive-historical). Lastly, he draws some conclusions about the baptism of the infants of believers.
In the first part of his essay Ferguson draws upon a snapshot of instances where infant baptism is practiced by the early church: (a) records of mortality - some dating back to the turn of the third century; (b) works of theology - Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage refer to infant baptism in their writings; (c) evidence from liturgy compiled by Hippolytus of Rome (d. ca. A.D. 236). It's interesting that none of these practices give a theological reason for the practice of infant baptism.
Ferguson writes, "Was the title to baptism of these children grounded in either (1) the faith of their parents/sponsors?--which would be somewhat akin, as we shall see, to a covenantal approach to infant baptism--or (2) was the confession of the parents/sponsors viewed as an expression of the 'faith' of the infants themselves?--which would be in keeping with the wording of later inscriptions describing the deceased infant as being 'made a believer' at the point of baptism."
In the second part of the essay Ferguson discusses the importance of covenant signs in the Bible: (a) Noahic covenant - the sign of the rainbow (Gen. 9:12-16); (b) Abrahamic covenant - the sign of circumcision (Gen. 17:11); and (c) Mosaic covenant - the Sabbath day (Ex. 31:16-17). Ferguson comments, "In their own context each of these covenant signs pointed forward to a fulfillment in the new covenant in Christ...This background shows that the physical signs of baptism and the Lord's Supper which Jesus instituted belong to a larger pattern and should be interpreted in the light of this biblical-theological tradition. Baptism cannot be fully understood abstracted from this matrix."
Ferguson gives the following definition of baptism from the Westminster Confession of Faith: "Baptism (and all the biblical sacraments) are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits; and to confirm our interest in Him: as also, to put visible difference between those that belong unto the Church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word."
Then Ferguson explains how the sign of circumcision in the Old Covenant is transferred to baptism in the New Covenant: "Baptism functions in relationship to the new covenant in Christ in a manner analogous to the function of circumcision in the Abrahamic covenant. In a word, baptism has the same symbolic significance in relationship to fellowship with God as did circumcision...Baptism signifies all that is in Christ for us; it points us to all that he will do in us and all that we are to become in him...Baptism is not primarily a sign and seal of faith, but to faith."
In Ferguson's biblical-theological defense of infant baptism he grapples with the following issues: (a) how circumcision is fulfilled in Christ for the nations; (b) how union with Christ is expressed in baptism; (c) the baptism of Christ and what it means for us; (d) how baptism expresses the fellowship of God within the Trinity; (e) how baptism functions as a sign and seal; (f) divergent views of infant baptism - contrasting the catholic view and subjectivist view (Protestant); (g) How baptism signifies and seals the covenant of grace; (h) the covenant principle and practice of infant baptism; (i) the harmony of paedobaptism with the New Testament mindset; (j) the implications of baptism.
(3) Anthony Lane argues for the dual practice view - "affirms both adult, or convert, baptism and either paedobaptism or adult baptism as legitimate options for those born into a Christian home."
He begins his essay by sharing his experiences (the only one of the author's to share his personal baptism experience) of being baptized in the Anglican church at the age of three, as well as being a part of baptistic churches for the past thirty years. He writes, "At a later stage I read George Beasley-Murray's Baptism in the New Testament. This Baptist author persuaded me that New Testament baptism was no so much believers' baptism as converts' baptism. Thinking about this made me realize that Baptist and paedobaptist practice are alike modifications of this. At the same time I was concerned about the fact that my children appeared to be believers but were not yet baptized, a situation I could not square with the New Testament. The suggestion that such children should take communion until they were old enough for baptism struck me as hopelessly confused. So Beasley-Murray (with help) moved me away from the Baptist position."
In his biblical analysis of baptism he writes, "If we look at these passages (he sites 14 passages from the book of Acts) and ask what was expected to happen, we find four things that repeatedly occur: repentance, faith, baptism, and reception of the Holy Spirit."
Lane's essay hones in secondly on the historical development of what he calls "conversion" baptism (he gives the greatest amount of ink to this section). He takes what he calls a "seismological approach" from the 5th century and back tracks to the New Testament. He believes that there is enough evidence to advocate for both paedobaptism and believers baptism in the early history of the church.
The third part of Lane's essay focuses on theological and practical considerations of performing dual-baptism. Lane explains, "It must always be remembered that for those raised in a Christian home, baptism, is not an isolated event but simply one stage in a lengthy process...The New Testament practice of baptism was converts' baptism, the immediate baptism of those who come to faith as part of their initial response to the gospel. This needs to be modified for children born into a Christian home, either into infant baptism or into baptism at a later date. The New Testament evidence for how such children were treated is not unambiguous. Both approaches can be defended on biblical grounds. No grounds exist for insisting on one to the exclusion of the other. This policy of accepting diversity is the only policy for which the first four centuries of the church provide clear evidence."
In the final analysis for Dr. Ware credobaptism is primarily "a sign of our faith and act of obedience and commitment to Christ." For Dr. Ferguson paedobaptism is primarily "a sign of what we receive from Christ." For Dr. Lane paedo or credo baptism (together with faith and in a subordinate role) is primarily "an instrument by which we embrace Christ and his salvation."
Each essay tackles the issue of baptism quite differently. I would say that Dr. Ware (credobaptism) does the best job with the biblical evidence and with an exegesis of baptism. Dr. Ferguson gives a very articulate presentation of the theological reasoning behind paedobaptism. Dr. Lane (dual-view) does the best job of presenting an early history of baptism. In my opinion the one who does the most balanced job in handling the biblical, historical, and theological evidence for his position is Dr. Ware.
No matter where you stand on the issue of baptism you will definitely learn a lot from this book. The author's have done their homework and have written with theological acumen and a cogent articulation of the pro's and con's of each view. The one thing I would have liked to have seen at the end of this book is a concluding essay from the editor, or perhaps theologians' from the three different strands articulated in the book. Another helpful asset would have been a question and answer section from the editor to each author. However, for greater insight into the issues of baptism from three great communicators - one would be hard pressed to find a more balanced presentation on baptism than contained in this "Three Views" book. I recommend this book for pastors, students, and Christians on all sides of the equation. It will help clarify one's position, perhaps change your position, or stir within you a desire to search the Scriptures, Theology, and Church History for further study. The author's are firm on their presentations and yet charitable and balanced - which is a good model for those wrestling with this important biblical subject.
There were some arguments that I couldn't follow well, and I don't know if that was because I was distracted (or bored?) or if it is a little more difficult for laymen to understand. I still own it and plan on reading through it again because the baptism discussion really hits home for me.
And it is a good question. I often have conflicted sense within me. I was brought up within a Free Church tradition, which baptized adult believers and dedicated babies. My transition into ministry within the Anglican church, first as a youth minister required to teach confirmation classes and then as a priest, required to baptize babies, I have had to spend some time thinking this through.
This book sets out the position for each understanding. Each chapter consists of the defense of one of the positions (Bruce Ware is for believers baptism, Sinclair Ferguson for infant baptism and Anthony Lane is for a mixed practice). Then the other two contributors give their response to that position, and the chapter concludes with a final response to the two other responses. Hence this book is just under 200 pages and three chapters long!
However, despite being under 200 pages, these are densely packed pages - filled with historical theology and exegesis of passages. Bruce Ware in defending believers baptism is somewhat aggressive, beginning his chapter with these words: ...the sad fact is that our different views of baptism mean that in all likelihood significant portions of Christ's church are failing to carry out what Christ has commanded, even if this failure stems from good motives.
For Ware there is no evidence of infant baptism in the apostolic or post apostolic period - not until the third century do we have any firm evidence for infant baptism practice. Biblically Ware argues that Paul, in Colossians 2:12 rules out infant baptism, for he says that new life becomes a reality through faith. Hence, for ware, baptism is a sign of regeneration. Also, Ware rejects any symbolic link between circumcision and baptism. He argues that if such a link was meant to be then why is it not stated as such in scripture.
Sinclair Ferguson disagrees. He argues (in a brilliant chapter) that circumcision and baptism share the same core symbolism which points to and is fulfilled in Christ. Ferguson, very interestingly asks whether baptism is a seal of faith or a seal TO faith. His belief is that it is TO faith. He writes:
Baptism signifies and seals the work of Christ crucified and resurrected and the communion with God which is ours THROUGH FAITH.
This was the point of circumcision; it was not a seal of Abraham's faith response, but of the (covenant) righteousness which he received through faith.
What is Ferguson's response to the silence of infant baptism in the apostolic and post-apostolic period? I am not sure he answered this as thoroughly, but for Ferguson, you cannot argue from silence and thus that is why the issue demands theological engagement. Also, he uses Acts 2:39, which says:
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."
Coming from a covenantal position, Ferguson argues that the phrase for the promise is for you and for your children means the covenantal principle remains inviolable. The children of believers receive the same promise as their parents and are therefore to be baptized.
Of course, Ferguson reminds the readers that infant Baptists are not against believers baptism and indeed practice believers baptism. The issue is never infant or believers baptism - but whether infants can biblically be baptized as well as adhering to the practice of infant baptism.
Without disrespect, the strength of the book is in the interaction between Ware and Ferguson. Anthony Lane's position (that both practices are allowed in Scripture) is the weakest and it is clear from Ware's response that he does not think it a valid view. Ferguson engages far more respectfully with Lane.
This book is worth the money simply for Sinclair Ferguson's chapter defending infant baptism, but it is also a great way of seeing the issues involved between infant and believers baptism. While the chapters are dense, they are well written and engaging, giving a lot of information. Whether anyone will actually be persuaded by the arguments to the extent of changing their position is doubtful. But you will come away will a strong respect for the positions and maybe, for the believers baptism advocates, not quite as quick to dismiss or disregard infant baptism.