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It Takes a Church to Baptize: What the Bible says about infant baptism, by Scot McKnight 

10 May 2019

Mike Starkey considers those who agonise about infant baptism

THE author of this book, Scot McKnight, is a New Testament scholar at a Baptist Seminary in Illinois. Since 2014, he has also been an ordained Anglican. The afterword is by the Professor of Divinity at a seminary in Alabama with Baptist roots, who also made the transition from Baptist to Anglican. Its foreword is by a former leading light in the Vineyard movement who is now an Anglican bishop in the United States.

This short book is clearly aimed squarely at fellow Evangelicals who feel similarly drawn to Anglicanism, but are troubled that its practice of infant baptism seems “unbiblical”. For many would-be converts, even for some within Anglicanism, this remains a problem. Infant baptism is seen not only as lacking clear biblical warrant, but as draining the impulse for mission from already dwindling Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Reformed churches. If all the baptised are Christians already, why bother with evangelism and discipleship?

McKnight’s case draws mostly on the New Testament, but also on key figures who influenced his own shift in perspective, including Calvin, Bonhoeffer, and the early church Fathers. His title echoes the African proverb, popularised by Hillary Clinton, that it takes a village to raise a child.

The author admits from the outset that there are no explicit passages of scripture in which we read of children being baptised. But he claims that it is everywhere implied, and has robust theological underpinning. He concedes that appalling and unjustifiable persecutions were meted out through church history to minorities who reserved baptism for adults, notably the Anabaptists.

McKnight makes a case for Christian conversion as being not so much a single event as a journey into spiritual maturity, which begins in baptism. He notes that the biblical pattern is always for children to be deeply implicated in their parents’ faith. Baptism is the sowing of a seed, which needs ongoing water and sunshine to grow and flourish; so mission and discipleship remain essential.

McKnight claims that the biblical antecedent for baptism is circumcision: a sign of covenant membership, made long before a child is able to make any personal response. He underlines the biblical focus on the household unit, and suggests that the rise of “believer’s baptism” has accompanied the rise of Western individualism. He highlights those passages in the epistles which strongly suggest that baptism “does” something sacramental rather than is merely a moment of human response. Baptism, ultimately, is about what God does for us rather than what we do for God.

Early in the book McKnight notes that the traditional designation for a believer in infant baptism is “paedo-baptist”. He offers an accessible and persuasive case for why his sceptical reader might become one. The reader may, however, remain less than keen to use the term at dinner parties.

The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutor for Church Army and author of the new Why on Earth . . . ? apologetics resource for home groups.

It Takes a Church to Baptize: What the Bible says about infant baptism
Scot McKnight
Brazos Press £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90

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