Review: “Understanding Four Views On Baptism”

I wrote a post a while back about baptism, in which I basically said my thoughts on the subject were limited by the fact that I didn’t understand other people’s views on the matter.

Take, for contrasting example, the issue of predestination. I have my views on the matter. And I feel comfortable with those views because I’ve studied other people’s and felt like I understood them enough to say, “OK, I understand why you believe that, but here’s why I don’t.” It’s a complicated issue with lots of good arguments from the different sides, and I can respect the diversity of beliefs. Even the ones that are obviously wrong.

With baptism, on the other hand, I have a harder time. I, for example, don’t believe in infant baptism. It would be easier for me to say, “OK, here’s why I disagree with people who believe that,” if I understood why they believed that. But I don’t. I don’t feel like I have enough understanding of the arguments to evaluate them.

So my co-worker Johnny was kind enough, after reading my post, to loan me his copy of the book Understanding Four Views on Baptism.

I don’t know that it really changed my thinking, but it sure was fun.

The way the book works is this. It’s written by four experts representing four different belief sets, and is divided into four sections. In each section, one of the four experts explains what his group believes, and why. The other three then get to write why he’s wrong.

The problem with this approach is that you never get an unbiased look at anything, you just get a variety of biases to average out. I came out of the book with the same viewpoints I had going into it. I read the arguments supporting differing views, and still didn’t really understand how people could believe those things. But that may be as much a reflection of me as it was the book. It seemed a lot of the arguments involved adding things to scripture, which raises the question of whether those things were good things to add. Shockingly, the person writing that particular argument thought they were. The other people, shockingly, did not.

The discourse, however, was quite entertaining, in very much a polite “with all respect, I have no respect for this” tone. To be honest, I found it more enjoyable reading from a debate perspective than from a baptism perspective.

The book is part of a series, and I very well may have to go back and look into other volumes in the set to see what it looks like for other topics to get this treatment.

… In Newness of Life

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Rite of Baptism.”

river baptism

I would have a better idea what to do with my desire to be baptized again if I had a better sense of how it fit into my idea of baptism.

For all the long-held beliefs I’ve been questioning and challenging lately, I’m still pretty traditionally Southern Baptist when it comes to baptism.

I believe that baptism is an outward confession of an inward decision. It’s a ritual acknowledgment of a new relationship with Christ.

Baptism is the wedding. The wedding doesn’t make you married; you don’t have to have a wedding to be married. But usually the two go together, and it’s a way of letting other people share in the celebration of the union and a way of publicly avowing your marriage.

I know people believe, but don’t understand myself, that baptism is actually a necessary step in salvation.

I know people believe, but don’t understand myself, that there can be a purpose to infant baptism.

I know people believe, but don’t understand myself, that there is a power in the act itself of baptism.

There are a lot of beliefs that other Christians have that I don’t agree with, but that I can at least understand. But with Baptism, my understanding is surprisingly limited.

There are a couple of areas where I’m slightly nontraditional. I don’t believe that a baptism has to be performed by anyone in particular. I believe I have as much authority to baptize someone as the head of the local First Baptist Church. On a somewhat related note, I am curious whether baptism is part of the conveyance of that authority. I believe in the priesthood of the believer, and I’m suspicious that baptism may be the ceremony announcing that priesthood.

I would like to be baptized again. If baptism is a declaration, I would like to make a new declaration. I would like to be baptized in a river, by someone with no recognized ordination, in a service not affiliated with any particular organized church. I would like a baptism that is purely about my relationship with Christ, without requiring the blessing of, or joining into, any other organization. Just me and Him.

But if baptism is the wedding, then it would be a lie to say we just got married when we’ve been married for decades.

What about you? What do you believe about baptism? What role does baptism play? Why?