Book Review: Believer’s Baptism

Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville, Tenn: B & H Academic, 2006. 364 pages, Hardcover. $19.99.

(Review copies courtesy of B&H Publishing)

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Special Features: Forward by Timothy George; Author Index; Subject Index; Scripture Index

Sample Chapter: PDF

ISBN: 0805432493 / 9780805432497

DCN: 243.161 B431 LCCN: BV803 .B34 2006

Subjects: Baptist Doctrine, Baptism, Biblical Theology

Editors: Thomas R. Schreiner (Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Associate Dean of Scripture and Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books and many articles on New Testament interpretation and biblical theology. He also serves as preaching pastor of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. (from the back cover)

An Interview with Tom Schreiner on Baptism, conducted by Justin Taylor

Shawn D. Wright (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and also serves as one of the pastors at Clifton Baptist Church. His area of specialization is Reformation studies. (from the back cover)

Authors: Andreas J. Köstenberger (ETS), Robert H. Stein, Thomas R. Schreiner, Stephen J. Wellum, Steven A. McKinion, Jonathan H. Rainbow, Shawn D. Wright, Duane A. Garrett, A. B. Caneday, Mark E. Dever (9Marks)

Believer’s Baptism, edited by Schreiner and Wright, covers a multitude of theological and historical aspects all centered on the rite of Christian baptism. The goal of their presentation is to show that baptism is only for those who have professed faith in Christ and that the practice of infant- or paedo- baptism compromises the gospel itself. The book is well-researched, and the importance and preservation of this sacred Christian rite are found within this study.

Schreiner and Wright organize their presentation in 10 distinct chapters, each focusing on a different historical practice. Each chapter is written by a different author, focusing first on baptism proper and then often expanding the discussion into the mode and method. Each author concludes his section by summarizing his findings and explaining the necessity of holding to a baptismal view that is strictly for those who have professed faith in Christ.

The organization greatly lends itself to both a strength and a weakness. As mentioned above, the primary focus of the book pertains to a historical look at baptism. The first three chapters move from baptism in the Gospels to Acts and then into the Epistles. These chapters present baptism as shown in the New Testament. Following this, the authors trace how baptism was historically initiated, moving from the Patristic Fathers into the present age. For anyone looking for a historical presentation on the mode and method of baptism, this book is an essential reference. Yet there is a limit as to what can be gathered from extrabiblical historical resources. Since the aim of the study is to refute the practice of infant baptism, additional aspects of baptism are only glossed over.

An additional strength of this study pertains to the presentation of historical movements. While on a biblical level there is a limit to claiming a movement’s position as correct, understanding why a movement held a specific view is often invaluable in understanding certain doctrines and their evolution. The sixth chapter by Johathan H. Rainbow is such an example of presenting a perception of where we are and how we got there. He explains the lives of Zwingli and Hubmaier and how their respective thinking on baptism led to the reemergence of believer’s baptism. In summarizing his thoughts, Rainbow comments, “It is not the insistence that baptismal recipients be believers 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. Given the history of the doctrine, the best descriptive term for the position of both Anabaptists and Baptists is not ‘believer baptism’ but ‘confessor baptism’” (p. 204).

The only major deficiency in this study is Stein’s presentation on Lukean Baptism. He seems to present a view on the significance of baptism contrary to the other authors. He first notes that “repentance, faith, and baptism are all portrayed in Acts as resulting in the reception of the Holy Spirit” (p. 41). Later, he comments, “At times, however, baptism is mentioned and the gift of the Spirit is not … Nevertheless Luke expects his readers to assume in these abbreviated accounts that those baptized had received the Spirit” (p. 46). 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.

Overall, this study on baptism is worthwhile to anyone wanting to understand that sacred Christian rite. Though the presentation and organization are geared more toward the theology student than the average layman, I personally would recommend this book to pastors. Often believers don’t understand why specific rites are performed and why certain beliefs are held to. It is the pastor’s prerogative to properly pastor his sheep. In order to help aid him in answering questions surrounding baptism, I strongly recommend Believer’s Baptism.

On a more personal level, I gained the most benefit from the historical presentations. Prior to reading Believer’s Baptism, my knowledge of the debate surrounding this rite was limited to my Church History class, which only briefly touched on the subject. While the presentation was clearly organized against paedobaptism, the study left me wondering how certain organizations are still able to pull the proverbial wool over their members’ eyes into believing either protection of salvation comes from this rite of personal identification.

maclean.jpgStewart MacLean Jr. teaches Music K-8 at the Hope of Detroit Academy (Detroit, MI) and provides woodwind instrument classes for Detroit intercity youth through the Southeastern Michigan Arts Forum. Stewart is a Member of Lakes Baptist Church (Walled Lake, MI) and holds a B.A. in Music Education from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI). Stewart is currently pursing a Master of Divinity from Faith Baptist Theological Seminary (Ankeny, IA). Visit his blog.
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