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What is Christian baptism? Is it, as many believe, a mere symbol? When should someone be baptized? In A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Baptism, Robert Letham answers such questions from Scripture. He reflects sensitively on historic Christian teaching and avoids the extremes that often mark discussions of this subject, making this a book for everyone. Letham’s plain talk will not leave beginners bemused, nor will it frustrate those who want to make real progress in their theological understanding. It is a ‘tragedy’, says Letham, that Christians should think of baptism as ‘the water that divides’. The sign of our union with Christ should unite Christians, not least because it does not focus on our actions, but on God’s mighty deeds. Baptism belongs to him. It must always be administered in connection with faith, yet that does not mean Christians do anything to receive or to earn baptism. They are to be baptized solely because of God’s gracious promises.
I was looking for a short book that would summarise the position of those who baptise infants, and this book certainly fulfils that bill admirably. If it had just set out the Reformed or Presbyterian view of baptism then it would have served its purpose well. However, the author, goes on to critique baptists in a rather unfair manner. The author spends a long time building the case for infant baptism, but doesn't fairly represent the baptist case. For example he swats aside any Baptist consideration of the Old Testament by saying, "credobaptists rest their case on the New Testament in isolation from the Old Testament", which plainly ignores Baptist understandings of the New Covenant laid out in the Old Testament.
I am a credobaptist who read this book for information. I came away confused about the paedobaptist position. It is argued that baptim confers a lifetime of grace, but what that is was not defined. There was some confusion between the baptism of the Holy Spirit (regeneration) and water baptism, and texts about one were interpreted about the other e.g. Titus 3.5, 1 Peter 3.21. Letham argues that children of believers should be baptised as soon as they can be called Christian, but doesn't really explain this except in arguing in a chapter at the end that children of believers should be seen as members of the Church (Ephesians 6.1-4) Letham made a good case for swift baptism, as practiced by the apostles (without supernatural insight witness Simon in Acts 8), but even so one should ensure that people being baptised understand what they are doing and credibly profess the Gospel, otherwise they will get false assurance.
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