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What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism? An enquiry at the end of Christendom

Author: David F Wright
Published By: Paternoster (Milton Keynes)
Pages: 117
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 1 84227 357 4

Reviewed by Alun Brookfield.

I (an Anglican who used to be a Baptist) was given this book to review by the Chairman of Ministry Today (an unrepentant, dyed-in-the-wool Baptist) with a wry smile. What was in his mind, I do not know, but I think he enjoyed asking me to review the book.

David F Wright is Emeritus Professor of Patristic and Reformed Christianity at NewCollege, Edinburgh, and he is well known and highly respected in academic circles. The book originated as the Didsbury Lectures in 2003, but the author has been writing about baptism for many years before that, so he was already well versed in the subject before starting to prepare his lectures.

There are four lectures: 1. Infant baptism in the hands of Christendom; 2. Baptism and profession of faith - what and whose?; Baptism in mission - catechumenate and discipleship; Baptism - effective sign or merely symbolic?

The question in the book title might lead some (such as our esteemed Chairman) to think that Wright is simply highly critical of infant baptism as it is practised by the present church, and they would be correct. However, they would not be correct in thinking that he simply then espouses the Baptist cause. As he correctly points out, it is just as possible for a believer’s baptism to ‘lead nowhere’ as it is for an infant baptism to do so. He is as scornful of the low view of baptism held by some Baptists (as being merely a symbolic act of obedience) as he is of the equally low view of baptism in which children are baptised indiscriminately, because, if we believe that nothing actually ‘happens’ in baptism, it is hardly surprising if many of the baptised (in all traditions) never darken the door of the church again.

He also draws attention to the oft-forgotten fact that, in the early centuries of the church, infant baptism and believers’ baptism existed side by side without apparent difficulty, as indeed they do now (and have done since 1662 at least) in the Church of England.

This slim, but provocative volume should be read by leaders of both baptising factions of the church. Both will be challenged and encouraged in equal measure by this careful examination of the use of baptism in Christian worship and ministry.

Alun Brookfield

Editor of Ministry Today

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You are reading Issue 38 of Ministry Today, published in November 2006.

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