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Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Counterpoints: Church Life) Paperback – February 5, 2007
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From the Back Cover
What is the significance of water baptism? Who should be baptized? Is infant baptism scriptural? Which is the proper baptismal mode: sprinkling, pouring, or immersion? Should people be rebaptized if they join a church that teaches a different form of baptism? Should baptism be required for church membership? These and other questions are explored in this thought-provoking book. Four historic views on baptism are considered in depth: * Baptism of the professing regenerate by immersion (Baptist) * Believers' baptism on the occasion of regeneration by immersion (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) * Infant baptism by sprinkling as a regenerative act (Lutheran) * Infant baptism of children of the covenant (Reformed) Each view is presented by its proponent, then critiqued and defended in dialogue with the book's other contributors. Here is an ideal setting in which you can consider the strengths and weaknesses of each stance and arrive at your own informed conclusion.
About the Author
John H. Armstrong is president of ACT 3 in Carol Stream, Illinois and served as a pastor for more than twenty years. He is an adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College Graduate School. His online commentaries regularly appear at www.Act3online.com. He holds degrees from Wheaton College, Wheaton Graduate School, and Luther Rice Seminary. He is the author or editor of a number of books including The Catholic Mystery, Five Great Evangelists, Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper, and Understanding Four Views on Baptism
Paul E. Engle, series editor for Counterpoints Church Life, is an ordained minister who served for twenty-two years in pastoral ministry in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois, and Michigan. He is an adjunct teacher in several seminaries in this country and internationally. He serves as associate publisher and executive editor in the Church, Academic, and Ministry Resources team at Zondervan. He and his wife Margie, live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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Top Customer Reviews
The rebuttals and counterarguments made by the other three theologians were more interesting than the actual presentations themselves unless you are completely new to the baptism debate. However the relatively simple introductions to the respective approaches to baptism might clue you in on how the other side actually thinks. It is highly unlikely that anyone will come away with a changed mind given the nature of the presentations. The Reformed and Lutheran positions, for instance, approach the subject of baptism by relying heavily on the Reformed confessions and the theology of Luther respectively. Those who do not share such presuppositions are unlikely to come away convinced.
Nettles's presentation of baptism is fine and does not begin with a confessional basis or a great theologian such as Luther, but the Bible, arguing that baptism is a symbol of Christ's saving work whereby a person who has already come to faith now visibly enters the Christian community. Nettles then details the baptism of John and Jesus and then describes several key instances of conversion and baptism in the Book of Acts arguing that faith in Christ/conversion always precedes baptism. One of the strengths of the Baptist approach is the lack of biblical evidence for children being baptized in the New Testament. That there is no mention of an infant being baptized anywhere in the New Testament and no command to do so should give Paedobaptists pause, yet the question of original sin and its effects on infants is not addressed sufficiently, nor is the theory of the age of accountability discussed. Pratt, offering the Reformed response, points out that Nettles drives a wedge between one's salvation and one's baptism whereas the New Testament, especially St. Paul, seems to speak of them as a unity.
Robert Kolb, presenting the Lutheran view, placed great emphasis on the creative Word of God as the basis for baptismal regeneration. Kolb quotes a passage from Luther that states, "Baptism is an eternal covenant which does not lapse ... When Christians fall, they always remain in their baptisms, and God binds himself to them so that He will help them when the baptized call upon Him." This quote is misunderstood by Kolb's detractors giving them the impression that once baptized a person remains in a permananent state of grace. Luther's intent, as Kolb points out, was for baptism to be a daily event of dying to self and rising up to a new life in Christ. Interestingly Kolb does not emphasize the urgency of infant baptism given the gravity of original sin. In this respect the Lutheran position is deeply indebted to Augustine of Hippo. Moreover the strength of the Lutheran position is that it ties baptism to the promises of the Word of God and thereby grants the believer the assurance that God is faithful regardless of one's feelings and inadequacies. In this regard Lutheranism is a fundamentally objective religion that places great emphasis on the sacraments since Luther himself suffered so greatly from the uncertainty of his own salvation.
The Reformed position presented by Richard Pratt is helpful. Like the Lutheran position the Reformed is also indebted to Augustine of Hippo as Pratt quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith emphasizing that baptism for the Reformed is both covenantal and sacramental. What does sacramental mean?
"There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other."
What does all of that mean? The "sign" is the water and the "thing signified" is the actual regeneration/renewal of the individual by the Holy Spirit. In Reformed theology, however, regeneration does not necessarily take place at the moment of baptism. The Spirit is free to move and renew the individual at His sovereign discretion, often years after the moment of the actual baptism. The Spirit is not bound to the water as it is for Lutherans, for the Reformed emphasize the sovereignty of God and the divine prerogative to operate apart from the two Gospel sacraments and even the preaching and hearing of the Word. The strength of this position is that it eliminates any mechanical or magical certainty that the Lutheran or Roman Catholic view might grant baptism. The weakness, from a Lutheran perspective, is that the recipient remains uncertain if baptism and the Lord's Supper actually accomplish anything at all. In this sense the Reformed position, though indebted to Augustine, has not been faithful to him, for Augustine held that infants were indeed made regenerate in baptism by virtue of the "sign" (the water) and the "thing signified" (the renewing of the Holy Spirit)coming together at the moment of baptism. The Reformed position, while embracing Augustine's distinction of "sign" and the "thing signified" inadvertently drives a wedge between the two by making predestination and the sovereignty of God, rather than the promises of God, the central operating principle of its theology.
John Castelein, presenting the Churches of Christ position, argues baptism is the biblical occasion of salvation. Castelein is a believers' baptist who opposes infant baptism while protesting that his church's position has been wrongly described as baptismal regeneration. Castelein makes a threefold distinction whereby divine grace is the ground for salvation; human faith is the agency of salvation; baptism is the occasion of salvation. Nettles, offering the Baptist response, points out that as Castelein seeks to harmonize the theologies of James and Paul negates the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone (see page 132) thus preferring James to Paul where there should be no question of disunity to begin with. Castelein's position becomes something of a "tertia quid" since it is neither truly Protestant, as are the other three positions, nor Catholic.
Overall a fine resource to have in one book. It will not change your mind, but it will provide you with a more informed perspective of much contested issue.
I found most of the views written with clarity. The authors knew how to present their positions well. The Lutheran View seemed to have the weakest presentation. I fault the author defending that position more than the position itself as other positions picked up on elements of that position and presented them better when making their own cases. The author's refutations of others positions also lost focus at times and drifted into refuting a previous presentation or presenting their own positions some more. I was disappointed the Roman Catholic/Orthodox View was not included in this discussion. But with that being said, I know the Lutheran View shares many similarities with it.
Overall, this book was well-written and gave a stellar presentation for each side (Lutheran excepted). The refutations proved to be excellent half of the time, but drifted in focus at other times. Nevertheless, one read enough to see the weaknesses in all of the positions. A good book to dive deeper on this topic!
There were a few places where I felt contributors were splitting semantic hairs. In some places, I found myself wondering what exactly two of the contributors disagreed on. (The Lutheran rebuttal to the Reformed essay is probably the biggest example of this). Overall though, this was an excellent read, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fair and balanced presentation of the subject.