My last brief book review was a book that concerned itself with infant baptism, and this one is concerned with baptism in general. I say “in general” hesitantly because this book looks at baptism in a wonderful and specific way, namely, as the Bible does. Peter J. Leithart’s purpose in writing this book is to get Christians back to the biblical understanding of that rite known as baptism by digging up the texts and showing their beauty. His question before him is: What does baptism to do to the baptized? It is a short read, at 136 pages, but it is a thick read. Leithart packs a huge discussion within the pages and he handles it very well.
The book is divided into 5 chapters, and each chapter builds expertly upon the one preceding it. You really do have to read this book from front to back and attempt to engage his material as it comes. The first chapter knocks our contemporary notions of symbolism, ritual, and sacrament out of the water by showing how silly we truly are as we think about baptism and the Lord’s Supper compared to what the Bible actually says about sacraments. He then discusses in the next two chapters that baptism really means baptism, and that the body of Christ is the historical church, and one necessarily leads to the other. His arguments are strong and can hardly be refuted. If you are baptized you are a member of the body of Christ. His fourth chapter deals with apostasy and assurance. This was a much needed discussion for me as I am attempting to understand baptism better. How can a member of Christ’s body leave? How can a member of Christ’s body be assured of his or her salvation if apostasy is real? His answers are encouraging and worth the price of the book. The last chapter is a fictional scenario illustrating the biblical teaching of baptism by means of a king and his three servants. One is a spy, the other ends up hating the king, and the third is hesitantly loyal at first but learns to love the king. The servant who is the spy is still in the service of the king. The servant who loves the king and later hates him was still a servant of the king. The servant who hesitantly loved the king but grew in his loyalty and love was always a servant. All three were truly servants of the same king.
Then Leithart, in an appendix, lays into the baptist notion of church culture and points out (in a gracious way) how their errors lead to a separation of Christ’s redemption in the world and the inconsistencies of baptist life and practice. This appendix was greatly helpful. Leithart does not shy away from the nominalism (Christian in name only) that can come from infant baptism, but he rightly understands that a proper understanding of baptism leads people (no matter their age) into true kingdom life. Nominalism is not the curse of infant baptism, nominalism is the result of the lack of church discipline.
What I appreciate the most about this book is that Leithart does not seek to apply this or that systematic theology to the texts of Scripture, but he straightforwardly lets the Bible speak on baptism. By doing this I have come to a better, deeper, and more appreciative understanding of what God does in baptism. It is a wonderful, short, and necessary read.
You can purchase this book, here.