The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, edited by Gregg Strawbridge. Philipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2003. 330 pages.
Gregg Strawbridge edits this work that contains an all-star cast of contributors, including Joel Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; Bryan Chapell, president of Covenant Theological Seminary, Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., president of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; Cornelis P. Venema, president of Mid-America Reformed Seminary; R. C. Sproul, Jr.; and numerous others.
As the title suggests, this work seeks to prove continuity between the Old and New covenants as strong support for infant baptism. In addition to being well written and informative, Baptists should find this work particularly interesting because three of the contributors are former Baptists: Gregg Strawbridge, Bryan Chapell, and Douglas Wilson.
Adorned with an attractive cover and clean text, this book puts forth traditional arguments for infant baptism. By focusing primarily on the continuity of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant the “case” is more about the inclusion of children in the New Covenant than the correctness of infant baptism. One author stated, “But no matter how baptism is presented, one question that Baptists can never answer is this: How could a converted Jew regard the new covenant as a better covenant, if now his children were to be excluded from God’s dealings with his people, no longer receiving a sign of God’s covenant promise?” (58). After arguing for the continuity of the covenants and the inclusion of children in the New Covenant, the authors hold that infant baptism is the symbol of introduction into that covenant.
For further support, the writers appeal to household baptisms in the New Testament and the lack of a prohibition against infant baptism. Some authors of the book concede that there is “no explicit case of infant baptism in the Bible” (3). However, these same authors note that the New Testament does not command that women partake in communion either, but their participation is still allowed. All in all, this book provides a good overview of the arguments for infant baptism.
Despite the previously mentioned positives, the format of the book handicaps it from the very beginning. By having fifteen chapters with sixteen contributors, the work comes across as disjunctive with this reader questioning the inclusion of a couple of chapters. There is no need to nitpick; the book has larger problems.
By employing the unproven presupposition that infants must be capable of faith to be saved, the content of the work fails to satisfy various theological perspectives. One author writes, “If infants cannot be baptized because they are incapable of repentance and faith, then they cannot be saved for the same reason” (60).
Additionally, R. C. Sproul, Jr., comments, “Others still might object that little children do not have the capacity for faith. If such is the case, we must infer two things. First, all those who die in infancy spend eternity facing the wrath of God” (309). The perspective of the thoroughly reformed theologian notices the lack of focus on the doctrine of election. Additionally, the Baptist theologian notices a silent dismissal of the concept of “the age of accountability.”
Other objectionable material may be found. For example, the following quote from Lyle Bierma would not sit well with most Baptists: “By the working of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of Christ, the sacraments ‘become effectual means of salvation’” (243). Implying that baptism conveys either grace for salvation, or the removal of the stain of original sin would meet with objection from true Baptists.
Additionally, no good explanation is given as to why some baptized as infants seem to fall away later on in life. However, the biggest failure of the work is that it does not prove its thesis. The appeal to one covenant fails: 1) to deal adequately with Jeremiah 31:31-34, which prophecies the coming of a New Covenant, 2) to answer why John the Baptist prepared the way for a new kingdom, and 3) to explain why those already in the Old Covenant (Jewish leaders) had to be saved and baptized to enter the New Covenant.
The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism contains a “who’s who” among supporters for infant baptism, but fails to live up to expectations. The book does contain good information and has value, if for no other reason than as a challenge to Baptists. With three former Baptists as contributors, current Baptists need to awaken to the need for repeated defenses of our belief in believer’s baptism.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Originally published in Faith and Mission, 22:2 (Spring 2005), 141-142.