I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Notes on Schreiner

What follows is a light fisking and commentary on Believer’s Baptism, edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright. Because these are simply my notes, some of these comments may make little sense apart from the book.

I took these notes in 2007 at which time you might have characterized me as a “federal vision amber.” Skimming it now in 2021 as a “federal vision dark stout,” I would no longer make as fine a distinction between covenant membership and faith. I think that the children of believers normally are regenerate in the sense we use that word today, so I would now affirm presumptive regeneration, or more simply say that the children of Christians are Christians. In fact, in some ways I go beyond presumptive regeneration; I think that the Bible normally uses the word regeneration differently from modern usage, so I prefer to assert a kind of baptismal regeneration—only not the kind that folks normally mean by that phrase today.

Apparently in this time I also converted from typing two spaces after a period to typing one.


Foreword

“[Jesus] did not baptize [the children who came to him]” (xviii). Nor did he baptize anyone at all; his disciples did. And that baptism was a baptism of repentance, calling covenant people to repentance. The children did not need to be baptized because they had not proved themselves unfaithful to the covenant.

“This witness to believers’ baptism is important, . . . precisely because of that to which believers’ baptism itself visibly and eloquently points—the self-giving of the triune God himself in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the benefits of which are freely bestowed by grace alone on all who truly repent and believe” (xix). This is suggestive in two unhelpful ways; one, that the sort of belief required is a mature one, and two, that the sort of repentance and faith required is instantaneous. Rather, I would suggest walk in a growing repentance and belief.

In fact, far from being a faithful picture of the gospel, we could reasonably charge credobaptism as being an unfaithful and hyper-Calvinist picture of the gospel. This is because, especially in the case of children, the practice of credobaptism often portrays our salvation as consisting of our carefully discerning that we are elect, whereas in fact our salvation consists of our persevering in a simple entrusting of ourselves to Christ. See Poythress on rigorism.

I think there is also a decent case to be made that credobaptism suffers from a low view of Christ’s lordship over all of creation and especially over the unregenerate, but this argument presumes that baptism is more connected with discipleship than with faith, which is precisely what is at issue in this debate, so it will naturally not be very persuasive.

I think that credobaptism also promotes an incipient gnosticism. This is because credobaptism elevates the notitia and assensus aspects of faith at the expense of the fiducia aspect of faith. In the case of children, credobaptism fails to acknowledge that a child’s noetic faculties are under development and that this aspect of faith must be understood in age-appropriate ways. Credobaptism wrongly demands a mature noetic response, contrary to Jesus’s explicit command, and simultaneously ignores the fact that our children are born and exist in a state of fiducia.

Introduction

Schreiner and Wright connect baptism and belief as a portrait of the gospel, explicitly contra paedobaptism; “only those who have repented and believed belong to the church” (2). But alternatively, baptism ought to be connected with discipleship as a portrait of God’s merciful disposition. Throughout there seems to be a presumption that baptism is connected with justification rather than covenant membership. On p. 3 there is the presumption that covenant/church membership is restricted only to the elect. The sharp distinction they draw here between baptists and paedobaptists (“paedobaptists knowingly include some who do not believe into the covenant community”) is wholly unwarranted, since consistent paedobaptists must practice correction and discipline, resulting in the fact that a paedobaptist church consists of those who are continuing in a growing repentance, faith and obedience.

Handling of apostasy (3-4), especially Hebrews 6 (contra Grudem), also Hebrews 10 (from Jeremiah 31, ignoring the proximate fulfillment of the latter) seems incorrect, and their jab at paedobaptists here is uncharitable. Interestingly, what they go on to say about the proper use of the warnings seems to be just what paedobaptists are saying.

On what basis do they assume that paedobaptist “children will not be disciplined for failing to believe” (5)? There are two possible problems with this—first, in discerning what unbelief looks like for an infant, and second, in assuming that paedobaptist parents simply will not discipline evident unbelief.

I agree that paedocommunion is a necessary conclusion (5), but disagree on the interpretation that communion is limited to believers rather than to covenant members. I also disagree forcefully with their assessment of Christian children as patent unbelievers (5) and their notion of what it means to discern the body (6, contra Grudem).

In addition to paedocommunion, they point out the problem of paedobaptist’s separating baptism from a distinct and even demonstrable coming to faith (7). I think this is a helpful point, and I think this is where the FV (in the tradition of Calvin, the Dutch Calvinists, etc.) very helpfully improves upon the current paedobaptist mindset, so I am with the authors to the degree that many American Presbyterians have their feet in two camps.

“Baptism is not an idle question, for it speaks to the nature of the church as the community of believers.” (8-9) Again, I would propose instead that baptism speaks to the nature of the church as the community of those who are walking in a growing repentance, faith and obedience under the care and discipline of God through his church.

As a general impression from this introduction, it seems that the baptistic view is inclined to have a high view of the formal, legal, forensic aspects of our salvation (important, certainly) but may easily minimize corporate, adoptive, familial, and affective aspects of our salvation. Whether paedobaptism gives up the former is of course the debate at hand.

Baptism in the Gospels

Kostenberger dismisses the connection between Jewish washings, sprinklings, etc. and baptism (12-13), but I wonder if baptism might replace cleansing rituals in a once-for-all sort of way, though obviously not as its primary purpose.

Mark 1:4 connects John’s baptism with repentance (13, 19). However, seen in the context of John’s preaching to covenant people, repentance recognizes covenantal unfaithfulness and constitutes a covenant renewal. Rather than presuming that covenant members needed something more in order to be saved, it recognized that covenant members needed to persevere in faith in order to be saved. This should not be overstated, however, since I believe that even adult Jewish Christians needed to be baptized with a once-for-all baptism. However, even that fact is suggestive for the paedobaptist case because the baptism of such Jews (e.g., someone such as Simeon) is connected with their becoming disciples of Christ and not with their commencing repentance and faith.

He suggests that “Jesus’s baptism signifies his identification with sinful Israel and points to the cross.” (14) I don’t think that interpretation is problematic for my view, though I’m inclined to think that it doesn’t do full justice to Jesus’s thereby fulfilling “all righteousness.” Where it comes to Israel corporately I would tend to think first of Jesus’s recapitulation of rather than his identification with Israel, and in that case Jesus as a faithful son would not need to repent.

Jesus refers to his crucifixion as a baptism (16; Mark 10:38-39). This is an interesting parallel to Romans 6.

Kostenberger argues that the proper mode of baptism is immersion rather than effusion (18, footnote 21). While I don’t agree, I’m not sure this would be problematic for paedobaptists, as it is reasonable for children to be washed (baptized) immersed in water.

Matthew’s language in 28:18-20 indicates that the means of making disciples is baptizing and teaching (23). Kostenberger asserts that “Jesus’ command to his followers to make disciples of all nations and to baptize and teach them clearly presupposed that the recipients of baptism and teaching are of sufficient age and maturity that they can consciously choose to be baptized and be instructed in the principles of the Christian faith.” (24) I agree with Kostenberger contra Doriani that baptism does not mediate a relationship with Jesus. Yet Kostenberger asserts that to “repent or exercise personal faith” is in view in Matthew 28:18-20, which is a stretch.

Kostenberger asserts that infants are incapable of regeneration, repentance and faith (25), yet he does so as a philosophical presupposition without any explanation. I do agree with his assessment of baptismal regeneration. But I don’t understand why “a corollary of Christian discipleship” cannot also be “a teaching tool for children in hindsight looking back at their baptism as infants.” (25)

Kostenberger concludes that “believer’s baptism is presupposed by both John’s baptism and the Matthean ‘Great Commission’ passage.” (33) As above, I disagree on both counts. I do agree that “baptism is an essential part of Christian discipleship.” (33, emphasis original) I’m not convinced that immersion is the only proper mode (33-34), and I disagree that “water baptism presupposes spiritual regeneration.” (34, emphasis original), though I agree with his repudiation of baptismal generation and ex opere operato (34).

Baptism in Luke-Acts

Stein assumes that “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” (35-36) refers to water baptism. He points out that Luke focuses on the practice rather than the theology of baptism (36).

Stein points out that faith and baptism are routinely connected in Acts (38ff), and then proceeds to show in detail how repentance, faith, baptism and the gift of the Spirit are integrally related (41). There is absolutely no doubt this is the case for adult converts, as these are all associated with entry into the covenant.

Stein interprets Luke’s joining of baptism and forgiveness of sins as being a baptism that is necessarily connected with repentance. I.e., as with John’s baptism, our baptism is a “baptism of repentance.” (50) He writes that “the desire to refute a mechanistic understanding of baptism that leads to the error of baptismal regeneration need not cause us to divide and separate in time and intent these two components [repentance and baptism] of the conversion experience that are intimately associated by Luke and the NT.” (50) He writes that “there is not just a temporal but a causal relationship between baptism and the forgiveness of sins. A ‘repentance-faith-baptism’ results in the forgiveness of sins.” (51) He shows that repentance, faith, confession, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, and baptism are all but facets of Christian conversion (52).

Stein writes that “today baptism is regularly separated in time from [the other components of repenting, believing, confessing, receiving the Spirit], whether in infant baptism (in which there is no evidence of the other components) or . . .” (54) He further says that “paedobaptists baptize considerably before any visible manifestation or sense of the Spirit’s presence.” (55) However, he disregards the testimony of Scripture that these are in fact ordinarily present.

Stein approvingly quotes Dunn as saying that “baptism in water ‘is not a channel of grace, and neither the gift of the Spirit nor any of the spiritual blessings which he brings may be inferred from or ascribed to it.'” (55) This seems wooden and gnostic to me. Why must we deny that baptism is a means of grace through which the Spirit works, even if not wholly effectively for all? Why can we not rather say that “the grace promised [in baptism] is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such . . . as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.” (WCF 28)

On p. 57 Stein uses the analogy of marriage for baptism as one aspect of a larger event. He doesn’t mention the further analogy of baptism as a performative utterance, similar to a pastor’s marriage pronouncement.

On p. 58ff Stein addresses the mode of baptism, concluding that Luke-Acts supports the exclusive use of immersion.

On p. 61ff Stein argues against household baptism’s applying to infants. I agree that no conclusions can be drawn directly, but I think there is a strong covenantal argument to be made from the fact that Luke is comfortable speaking in broad and corporate terms when referring to baptism. Similarly, it is interesting to note Luke’s utter lack of suspicion that any non-infant children who might have been baptized had a genuine understanding of the gospel and a genuine conversion experience. This provides significant warrant for advancing a more covenantal understanding of baptism.

Overall I would suggest that Stein’s picture of conversion-baptism is accurate, as it pertains to adults, but incomplete, as it does not address children (nor does Luke), whose experience simply cannot ordinarily be described as a discernible conversion. Moreover, both Kostenberger and Stein have minimized or even ignored the connection of baptism to discipleship as well as faith.

Baptism in the Epistles: An Initiation Rite for Believers

Schreiner cites 1 Peter 3:21 and mentions that “what is said here does not fit with infant baptism, for infants cannot appeal to God for a good conscience. . .” (71) However, if we take a covenantal view, the appeal being made is naturally by parents to God for his faithfulness to his covenant promises. He makes a point that water baptism and Spirit baptism should not be unnecessarily separated (72-73), but this is not a problem for paedobaptism as he suggests because Scripture is clear that the Spirit is ordinarily at work in the children—even infants—of God’s people. He insists that it is not “convincing to posit here that infants exercise faith” (73, footnote 18) but fails to engage Scripture on this point.

On Colossians 2:11-12, Schreiner notes that “Baptism . . . is also conjoined with the subjective appropriation of . . . salvation. Paul adds in v. 12 that the effectiveness of Christ’s work is accessed through faith.” (77) He concludes that “it is difficult to see, then, how infants can fit with what Paul says since they cannot exercise faith. Those who support infant baptism rightly see the objective work of God’s grace in Christ’s death and resurrection that is applied in baptism, but they delay the subjective appropriation of God’s gift by faith.” (77) First, it seems to me that he does not do justice (78, 95) to the connection that is being drawn between circumcision and baptism here. It is artificial to exclude from consideration both the physical aspect of circumcision and the spiritual aspect of baptism, especially as the analogy is oblique. This is even moreso the case because the same analogy is made, not to baptism, but to physical circumcision itself in Romans 4! Schreiner’s argument also begs the question, for it presumes credobaptism (“those who are baptized have already undergone a spiritual change when they were buried and raised with Christ” (78)). Second, Schreiner again overlooks Scripture’s testimony about infants and a posture of faith. Third, Christian faith is implicitly a persevering faith, so it is not the case that Paul is saying “raised with him through [instantaneous] faith” but rather “raised with him through [ongoing] faith.” Consequently, it is not unreasonable to say that the sort of faith that Scripture attributes to infants is the sort of faith that, if it grows and perseveres into a saving faith, is just what Paul is referring to in this passage.

On Romans 4, Schreiner later argues that this is not applicable to baptism at all because the connection between circumcision and faith is applied only to Abraham, not to circumcised infants (86-87). This is possible, but it is an awkward and narrow reading. First it disregards the fact that Paul makes an explicit connection to the circumcision and faith of faithful Israelites, so it is very reasonable to hold that Paul has a general understanding of circumcision in view. Second, Schreiner again begs the question, presuming without argument that infants cannot possibly have some degree of faith.

1 Peter 3 identifies the flood as a type of baptism, and 1 Corinthians 10:2 identifies the Red Sea crossing as a type of baptism. It seems to me that both of these events convey a dual blessing and warning of destruction aspect that could be said to be true of water baptism, and in fact Schreiner derives a warning (of a different sort than the Egyptians) from the baptism reference in 1 Corinthians 10:2 (81).

Schreiner claims that immersion is a more fitting picture of death, because immersion in water leads to death (82-83). This argument seems strained to me. Moreover, the types we have for baptism (flood, Red Sea) both involve death by pouring, covering, overwhelming; in addition, pouring and filling are used as pictures of baptism in the Spirit. But as before, even though I favor sprinkling, I’m not sure it’s problematic to immerse babies. We do bathe infants, after all.

On washing and infants, Schreiner writes that “a careful consideration of Tit 3:5-7 makes [the view that baptism is fitting for infants] unlikely. Baptism is closely associated here with the work of the Spirit in regenerating and renewing sinners so that they have new life. It is difficult to see how this can be true of infants unless one were to adopt an ex opere operato view of baptism.” (86)

Schreiner insists that “if Paul adopted the view customary in paedobaptist circles, we would expect him to say that circumcision is no longer required because baptism has replaced circumcision as the covenantal sign.” (90, also see 95) However, if circumcision points to and is fulfilled by the cross, one would expect that Paul would make much of that connection, even if circumcision and baptism both function as covenantal signs. Furthermore, I don’t think that baptism’s functioning as a covenantal sign is in dispute. Also, his appealing to the silence of Acts 15 on this point (90) is a weak argument, because the council also does not declare an end to circumcision at all, whether by the cross or by baptism. For whatever reason, the council instead seems simply to maintain what the law required of both Jews and Gentiles.

I’m also not convinced by Schreiner’s argument concerning Galatians 3:26-27. While I’m not entirely sure how to understand this passage, it seems that faith is being used by Paul primarily in either a personified or an objective sense (the object of our faith has come, and our faith is now vindicated and secured), and not primarily in a subjective sense. Taking the primarily subjective reading that Schreiner does also yields the conclusion, based on the distinction drawn by Paul, that faith—much less faith in Christ—was not vital to the Mosaic covenant, which is simply not the case. I think this significantly weakens Schreiner’s conclusion that “those who are baptized into Christ [are] the same as those who put their faith in Christ” (91, emphasis original), as well as his argument that identifies church membership with those who have credible faith (91-92, which argument is again a bit circular). I do agree with his statements on p. 91 that a balance needs to be drawn between emphasis on objective and subjective aspects, but I feel that an acknowledgment of Christian infants’ possessing a real seed of faith that must be fanned into flame does strike such a balance.

Schreiner makes the interesting statement that “since the NT does not speak of infants exercising faith, they should not be considered as candidates for baptism.” (94) Apart from the fact that this is not true, he is operating on the unproven assumption that one must approach the covenants from a more sharply divided New-Covenant perspective.

Schreiner briefly appeals to Jeremiah 31 to highlight the differences between the covenants (94). Yet because of the proximate/ultimate way this prophecy was directed and fulfilled I simply don’t think that this single passage can be used to carry the freight that credobaptists want it to. And even if the credobaptist interpretation were correct (and clearly from Hebrews it does have something profound to say about the new covenant), surely this prophecy is one that is being fulfilled in an already/not-yet manner rather than being already complete (just as was the case in its proximate fulfillment), so even in that case it would not follow that the new covenant community may not contain those whose election is not sure (which wording may seem a small nuance but is an important distinction to be made; paedobaptists do not admit those whose election is in serious question). In fact, credobaptists must admit such an already/not-yet distinction because of the reality of apostasy. Furthermore, there is no reason the Spirit cannot in fact begin writing God’s law in the hearts of infants. Indeed, the perfection of the covenant and of the Spirit’s work should give us greater hope of our children’s continuing in the covenant and in faithfulness than was granted by God in the old covenant, and the testimony of Scripture supports just this. To summarize, credobaptists assume that Jeremiah 31 excludes their children from the covenant, while paedobaptists see the totality of God’s character and promises and believe in faith that Jeremiah 31 applies to their children. This is precisely the same response of faith that Israel should have had to this prophecy in the time of Ezra. Why is it any less true for us?

Schreiner makes the typical argument against the paedobaptist appeal to 1 Corinthians 7:14 (95-96), reminding us that “no one would argue that, therefore, the unbelieving spouse should be baptized or included in the covenant people even though they are ‘sanctified'” (95), and going further to say that “there is no warrant exegetically for [Douglas] Wilson to permit baptism for children who are holy and to deny it to spouses who are sanctified.” (96) But Schreiner has made so much of the incapacity of infants that I am surprised he hasn’t recognized the fundamental difference at work here, in that the spouse has a mature mind and will whereas the infant does not. Even if baptism were offered, no unbelieving spouse would agree to be baptized if they fully understood the full weight of warnings against unbelief that it carried. The infant, on the other hand, will be nurtured with the covenantal promises and warnings from the earliest age. I don’t think that it can be ruled out that the sanctification of children spoken of here normally includes their participation in the covenant until proven otherwise.

Schreiner concludes with the statement that “those who allow infant baptism are allowing the unregenerate to be members of the church.” (96) I would prefer to say that paedobaptists are allowing those whose regeneration is not fully proven to work out their salvation with fear and trembling as a full-fledged part of the family of God, being made disciples of Christ. This statement is, of course, true for credobaptist churches as well, even if they don’t take it to its full conclusion. Again see Poythress on rigorism.

Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants

In my judgment Wellum has done a fair job at portraying the paedobaptist position. In fact, he is uncommonly generous, allowing for covenant keeping to be understood as simply continuing in genuine faith, rather than as a sort of works salvation.

Wellum seems to almost poke fun at the fact that paedobaptists consider children to be members of the church (97-98, footnote 3). But when did this become controversial? The epistles regularly addressed children without qualification. So it rather seems that credobaptists’ creating an artificial two-tier distinction within the church is the position without Scriptural warrant.

Wellum insists from Jeremiah 31 that the new covenant brings a change in the nature and structure of the covenant, such that “all those within the ‘new covenant community’ are people, by definition, who presently have experienced regeneration of heart and the full forgiveness of sin.” (105) On which see above.

Wellum critiques the mixed view of the church (112ff). For one, he fails to recognize that the NT never countenances the sort of two-tier church that credobaptists propose, that of members and attendees. Rather, the NT addresses the whole church with promises, commands and warnings, without distinction except for those who have already proven themselves not to be a part of the church. He also insists that paedobaptists apply baptism “to the infants of believing parents even though these infants have not yet exercised faith, and even though this practice disrupts the biblical order of baptism in the NT.” (114) On p. 122 he again criticizes paedobaptism for reversing the biblical order. However, he has not shown that infants have no faith, and it disrupts the biblical order of baptism no more than infant circumcision disrupts the clear biblical order of circumcision pictured in Romans 4—which is to say, Wellum is wrongly applying passages referring only to adults to children.

Wellum states that for paedobaptists, baptism is merely a shadow of a future promise, but that “it is only by God’s grace, when God’s Spirit makes us alive, grants us faith and repentance, and unites us with Christ that we experience true salvation—the reality to which baptism points.” (120) He also states that infant baptism “does not testify that regeneration has already taken place” (122), and suggests that apart from the covenantal argument “the entire biblical and theological warrant for the practice of infant baptism evaporates.” (124) However, without going so far as presumptive regeneration, the reality nonetheless is that paedobaptists do only baptize those for whom we have a strong hope and belief (based on God’s promises and the testimony of Scripture) that the Spirit is actually working within them.

Wellum accuses paedobaptists of minimizing the national and typological aspects of circumcision in a rush to equate circumcision with baptism (120ff), and says “we must not miss [that] as we move from Abraham to Christ, there is a significant progression and advance that takes place.” (132) I’m not sure this is fair, however, since paedobaptists readily admit that circumcision has ended. It is quite possible to be a paedobaptist and still to admit that what is portrayed in the movement from circumcision to baptism is glorious indeed (an expansion of the gospel to all nations; a real union with Christ and not simply a hope of cleansing). Wellum emphasizes the move from physical inheritance of covenant blessings to spiritual inheritance (136-137), but he neglects the spiritual aspect of the old covenant (proselytes; its restriction to those who have faith) and does not substantiate his implication that the new covenant has no physical aspect whatsoever. As always, such an aspect would be purely by God’s kindness and grace, but then we know from Scripture that this is part of his very nature.

Wellum asks rhetorically “why circumcision disappeared as a covenant sign . . . if circumcision and baptism are parallel in significance?” (124) And yet I think both credo- and paedobaptists must answer why circumcision didn’t disappear overnight. I’m not sure what the answer to that is, but it is suggestive for the paedobaptist case, though perhaps not to the degree that Wilson claims. Presuming on circumcision is roundly and rightly condemned by the apostles; but rather than speaking of it as being unwise in itself, Paul in fact deemed it wise to circumcise Timothy.

Wellum works to distinguish the covenants, preferring not to think of one “covenant of grace” (126ff). This is fine with me. However, it is certainly possible to fall off the other side of the horse. Galatians 3, Romans 4, etc. all indicate that there is a tremendous continuity of faith and salvation, particularly between the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant, and Wellum does address this (129). I’m not sure it’s fair to say that paedobaptists “view new covenant membership through the lens of the Abrahamic covenant.” (128) I prefer to say that paedobaptists view it through the lens of God’s eternal character even outside of any covenant, and through his gracious dealings with his people throughout all of history. Wellum admits of a federal headship of Adam in spreading sin and death (129) but doesn’t connect this to God’s generational dealings as described in his very character apart from his covenants, nor to the fact that grace is said to be generationally far more potent than sin.

Wellum uses the language of “covenant community” in reference to the credobaptist view (e.g., 138, 147ff), also God’s “gathered people”. (149) I’m not sure this is helpful to his argument as opposed to the language of “covenant member.” How can the church constitute a community and yet children not be a part of that community? That strains the very nature of personhood, community, assembly, gathering; and I would suggest this language really underscores how unnaturally credobaptism regards and treats children. It is in fact credobaptists who are picturing the church to be a strange “mixed entity.” (148) And as before, Wellum disregards the fact (as on pp. 147ff) that the NT simply does not address a two-tiered community. The national division between the inner and the outer courts has not been abolished simply to be replaced with a familial division.

Jeremiah 31 serves as the linchpin of of Wellum’s argument. For my main response, see Schreiner above. In addition, Wellum makes some points that are indisputable and do not further his argument; for example his second point on pp. 141-144 regarding some of the real blessings that we receive by the Spirit in the new covenant (modulo rush to identify “all flesh” with “all those within the covenant community” (143), which I don’t think is warranted).

Wellum makes much of the fact that circumcision was applied to unbelievers and their children (156). First, this did not lessen, but rather heighten the responsibility of the Israelites before God. Their circumcision was a testimony against them of their unfaithfulness, and in fact the prophets all called Israel to repentance, not in the way that all men are responsible to repent, but in the specific way that covenant members are to turn and return to their God. Second, had these unbelieving Israelites understood the weight of condemnation they were heaping upon themselves, they would either have repented or refused circumcision to their children. Similarly, when the promises and warnings of the gospel are rightly preached, no unbeliever in their right mind would wish baptism upon their children without first repenting.

Baptism in the Patristic Writings

What McKinion writes certainly sounds convincing in that paedobaptism wasn’t the normal practice in the early patristic period. However, I have heard other credobaptists admit that paedobaptism was the common practice, so I would want to do more study before reaching a conclusion. It is ironic, though, that much of the support for this view, and the documentation of the church fathers’ opposition to paedobaptism, comes from fathers who were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Far from keeping with the New Testament model of conversion immediately followed by baptism, it seems that many of these church fathers were advocating for longer and longer periods of separation, maturing and proving between conversion and baptism. Even if credobaptism were clearly mandated by the NT, these fathers’ creeping gnosticism is hardly a shining example of NT credobaptism. In fact, during this period there were apparently many believers who sadly put off their baptism until their death-bed.

I wonder how McKinion can so lightly reject out of hand the testimony of church fathers (e.g., Origen, Augustine) who describe paedobaptism as having been an apostolic practice. He is in fact charging these fathers with bold-faced violation of the ninth commandment, with little evidence, in a way that is suspiciously convenient for his conclusion. Who is in a better position than these men to testify of the apostolic practice? There is a similar suspicious convenience to his casual suggestion that Hippolytus’s reference to infant baptism may have been inserted into the text later (178), although not having read Aland I can do no more than register curiosity at this.

It seems to me overall that the credobaptist interpretation of the patristic evidence is not the only reasonable interpretation.

Logic of Reformed Paedobaptists

Throughout Wright addresses the covenantal aspect of paedobaptism, but ignores the testimony (e.g., of Calvin) of the Spirit’s working in infants. He has missed a key aspect of paedobaptism (at least of the Calvinian and Dutch varieties) that does in fact closely connect baptism and the faith-giving work of the Spirit. It is only together that the objective and the subjective arguments for paedobaptism, in my mind, are compelling. See Lusk for Calvin quotes contra the implication that Calvin is inconsistent in his definition of baptism and his practice of paedobaptism. Wright repeatedly accuses paedobaptists of an inconsistency between being discriminating of adults’ entry into the church, but supposedly throwing up their hands in resignation to the mixed nature of the church when it comes to allowing unregenerate infants in. But he even glosses over a few quotations that reveal there is something deeper to it, that paedobaptists do in fact have hope of their children’s regeneration. Witness Murray on “the judgment of charity” (224) and explicitly that infants “therefore have been regenerated” (242, which Wright too-quickly dismisses as meaningless, wrongly assuming baptismal regeneration to be the only option, though correctly assuming that Murray does not have this in view), Warfield on “all whom we may fairly presume to be members of Christ’s body” (227, footnote 85), Marcel on children’s “participat[ing] in all the promises and all the spiritual realities signified and sealed in baptism” (234, emphasis added), and Calvin on infants’ being “previously regenerated by the Lord.” (247) The “foundational” (224) principle on the admission of infants is not at all the mixed nature of the church, but in fact is God’s promises. We are exceedingly comfortable (and rightly so) with saying that infants are born with a selfish and rebellious nature. Why are we so uncomfortable with saying that Christian infants may also be born with a regenerate and faith-filled nature? Why must sin be so fundamental and corporal in nature and faith be only noetic?

Furthermore, Wright is in danger of losing the objective aspects of baptism in his emphasis on the subjective aspect of faith. For example, he writes that baptism “also marks one out as being united with Christ” (214) in a manner that assumes union with Christ is a purely subjective internal experience that infants are incapable of participating in. Even if infants were incapable of participating in the work of the spirit internally (I do not grant this), they may well be joined to Christ and his people externally. Moreover, Jesus himself participated in the Spirit in utero. Might it not be the case that union with Christ might by that very fact entail this same experience for many of God’s people?

On the distinction between confederate and communicant members (225-227), I agree. Hence, paedocommunion.

Just a side observation, but I find ironic the title of the book cited in footnote 133 on p. 237—The Baptism of Disciples Alone. What are we doing with our 2 year olds when we teach them to pray to God as Father, love and trust Jesus more and more, and obey God’s word if not making them disciples?

In suggesting that paedobaptism denies sola fide (246ff), Wright opens another can of worms. The implication of his position is that infants may not be saved, period. So he ends up denying the historic Christian teaching that infants who die are received to Christ.

Wright does at last address the notion of the Spirit’s working in infants (247ff). But he treats it more as a curiosity than an argument to be grappled with. He simply asserts there is some inconsistency in this notion without demonstrating it. He caricatures it when he suggests that it leads to presumption in our children (250); rather, parents are to urge believing children to persevere in faith just as adult believers are to urge one another to persevere in faith. See my paper for the supposed silence of Scripture on the Spirit’s working in “others” (252, footnote 187). And if paedobaptists are saying that the seed of faith precedes baptism, how could this possibly be “closer to Rome’s ex opere operato view of baptism’s efficacy than [it is] to the Protestant heritage” (252)?

Meredith Kline on Suzerainty, Circumcision, and Baptism

Overall I agree with Garrett’s assessment of Kline. I am not a fan of Kline’s approach. In short, it seems to me to mechanize and impersonalize God’s gracious dealings with man, and also to lay an inappropriate amount of emphasis on judgment and wrath over against mercy and grace. Interestingly, much of the vocal criticism of the FV originates from the Klinean camp.

While I agree with Garrett that baptism doesn’t primarily function as a sign of judgment, I would say that baptism functions this way secondarily for unbelievers who are baptized. Their being joined only externally to God is a clear witness and testimony against them. See my comments above on the discriminatory aspect of the analogies of the flood and the Red Sea.

Baptism in the Context of the Local Church

I disagree with Dever’s assertion throughout that “time will tell” (333) is the proper approach to take with baptizing children. For one, see Poythress on rigorism. Two, this negates the practice demonstrated in the NT of immediate baptism, and also the fact that baptism is in itself a picture and sign of newness of life. Distorting it into a picture and sign of maturity instead is a serious perversion, and it also robs our children of the means of grace that baptism serves. I think he also has his finger on the wrong problem when he identifies younger baptisms as the source of many Baptist problems. An alternative explanation—and I think the correct one—is that these baptized children are not being appropriately nurtured and disciplined by their families and church.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 4, 2021 at 4:43 pm