R.C. Sproul. What Is Baptism? Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, August 24th 2011. 70 pp.
3 out of 5
This is the second booklet in the Crucial Questions Series that I am reviewing. The topic of this work is on Christian baptism. I appreciated that Sproul wrote this and also made it available for free on Kindle and cheap in paperback format. In addition I appreciated the fact that Sproul wrote this booklet in an easy to understand format for the general audience.
The book itself is divided into six chapters. The first chapter covered the relationship between baptism and salvation with Sproul making the nuanced point that baptism is important but that does not mean baptism is contrary to the Bible’s teaching that justification is by faith alone. Chapter two looks at John the Baptist’s ministry and baptism. Here I appreciated Sproul’s point that baptism was shocking in the period of second temple Judaism since it would have been a scandal that John the Baptism implied even the Jews also needed purification and not just Gentiles who converted. Chapter three looks at signs of Abraham’s covenant which Sproul ending the chapter with the question of what is the New Covenant sign which of course is Baptism. Chapter four then goes over the meaning of baptism which I felt was the meat of the book. Both chapters five and six are a bit more controversial among Christians and here we see Sproul’s Presbyterianism comes out. Concerning the discussion of modes of baptism in chapter five Sproul tries to argue for sprinkling as oppose to baptism by immersion. I didn’t think he presented necessarily the strongest case and I remained unconvinced. The most controversial chapter to me as a Christian with Baptist leaning is chapter six in which Sproul tried to argue his case for infant baptism. I know Sproul said that “it’s a very dangerous thing to try to discern what is the good and proper way to please God simply by counting noses…” but he goes ahead to make this type of argumentation in the paragraph right before the quote in which Sproul argued that contemporary Evangelicals who reject infant baptism are in the minority and outnumbered compared to the number of denominations that hold to infant baptisms (to be fair he did mention these denominations tend to be smaller in actual size). Moreover even after he made the statement that it is dangerous to argue by appealing to the majority he later goes on to make the same kind of appeal. I found Sproul to be at his weakest in the book here; for instance he acknowledges that “the New Testament nowhere explicitly commands Christian to baptize their infant children” but in the same paragraph he says “But by the same token, there is no explicit prohibition in the New Testament against the baptism of infants.” Not only am I not convinced because this is an argument from silent, but I also wonder how the Regulative Principle of Worship that Presbyterian subscribes to applies here as a undercutting defeater to infant baptism within conservative Presbyterian’s own theological method. There’s more I can say about this chapter but in terms of some positive input I think this is worth reading to at least get the argument for infant baptism from Presbyterians themselves.
Overall a worthwhile work. I used this as a book one of our church’s small group was going through.