Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Important but not essential

Jonathan Leeman reviews Baptism: Three Views [2009] at 9Marks. Before engaging with the arguments in the book he makes a point important to acknowledge by any of us inclined to engage in doctrinal controversy:
There are two opposite errors that evangelical Christians easily stumble into on the topic of baptism: we treat it with too little or too much importance.

The former error, I assume, is more common these days. The thinking here is, the West is secularizing; we live in post-Christendom now; let’s not divide over non-essentials. Instead we must affirm the main thing we all share—the gospel.

The latter error, more common perhaps in former times, is still found wherever provincial mindsets cannot see that the work of Christ’s kingdom is afoot in denominations beyond their own. ....

The solution to the first error is to recognize that baptism may not be essential, but it is important. The solution to the second is to realize that baptism is important, but not essential. In short, Christians need at least three categories for setting theological priorities: essential, important, and unimportant. We often miss that middle category, and act as if everything is either essential or completely unimportant.

Baptism is not essential because it does not save. The word of the gospel alone saves. Yet baptism is important because (i) it proclaims the gospel visibly; (ii) it helps to protect the gospel from generation to generation; (iii) and it serves to publicly identify the people of heaven on earth, both for their sake and for the sake of the nations.

To help us sort through several prominent views on baptism comes the helpful book Baptism: Three Views, edited by the late professor of patristics and Reformation Christianity, David F. Wright. Presbyterian minister Sinclair Ferguson presents the case for infant or paedobaptism (“paedo” for child). Baptist theologian Bruce Ware agues for believers’ baptism or credobaptism (“credo” for creed). And professor of historical theology Anthony Lane offers a dual-practice position. ....
After summarizing the arguments of the three contributors, Leeman writes
Admittedly, I am not an objective reader. I was convinced of...believers’ baptism [before] picking up the book, and I remain convinced of it setting it down, maybe even more so.

What the book did do, however, is enrich my original position by the things I learned from the other two perspectives. .... [more]
Book review: Baptism--Three Views | 9Marks
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