Book Review: “Understanding Four Views on Baptism” John H. Armstrong, ed. (2007)

Zondervan’s Counterpoints series is the first of its kind that I have ever come across, a kind of textbook which mixes the best qualities of formal debates with the ease of a chapter book. Four authors who span the spectrum of baptism, from merely symbolic to essentially regenerative, meet on the pages of this book for a professionally simplified dialogue, and readers interested in understanding exactly why baptism is one of the most divisive elements of Christiandom today could not go wrong in picking this one up. I have said to my friends often that the Counterpoints series is like an entire seminary class fit into a small paperback, and this edition does not disappoint.

Thomas J. Nettles presents the Baptist view in his chapter titled “Baptism as a Symbol of Christ’s Saving Work,” and, as occours for all chapters in the Counterpoints series, this chapter is followed immediately by three short counterarguments from the three opposing authors. Richard L. Pratt Jr. then presents the Reformed view in his chapter titled “Baptism as a Sacrament of the Covenant,” Robert Kolb presents the Lutheran view in his chapter titled “God’s Baptismal Act as Regenerative,” and John D. Castelein presents the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ view in his chapter titled “Believer’s Baptism as the Biblical Occasion of Salvation.” John H. Armstrong, the editor of this edition, offers a clean and unbiased introduction and conclusion to the book which truly does offer the reader the right perspective in his approach to understanding this keystone issue.

While I hold soundly to the Baptist position (believer’s baptism) and was not swayed by either the arguments or the counterarguments of the opposing three authors, I feel that, after having read the book, I now understand how I might better defend from Scripture my position and what those who hold to other positions believe and why. I may not be able to pick another view on baptism apart right now, but that is not necessarily my calling anyway. I believe that I and all believers have been baptized by the Spirit into one Spirit, and I believe that Scripture teaches that when I was baptized as a believer by water, I was baptized into one Body, Christ’s Church. What I do with this knowledge now determines more than just which denomination I feel most comfortable in: it determines how I interact with true fellow-believers who hold to baptismal positions different than my own. Will I be a proponant of unity? Or will I join the long tradition of those extremists who who enjoy surgically dividing Christ’s Body? Will I be an edifier willing to talk straight? Or will I be a spineless brand of evangelical who calls “brother” every so-called Christian who follows his creeds and confessions more than he does God’s Holy Word? What I do with my beliefs about baptism determines a whole lot about who I am and what I Christ desires of me now that I am His.

I encourage every believer, no matter his denomination, to read this book. But even more so, I encourage every believer to read God’s Book to find out what He really says about baptism. If we are all to be baptized into one Body, then why are we so divided?

©2012 E.T.

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2 Responses to Book Review: “Understanding Four Views on Baptism” John H. Armstrong, ed. (2007)

  1. Thank you for this excellent short review. As editor of this book I hoped that it would elicit responses like your’s and I am glad you found it useful. The end result in knowing other viewpoints better is to know one’s own view and to love those you disagree with. You seem to be this kind of Christian and I commend you personally.

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