"Baptism" by Guy M. Richard. A Review

Baptism: Answers to Common QuestionsBaptism: Answers to Common Questions by Guy M. Richard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When people migrate from one church to another, they normally have interesting questions: "What makes this church different? Why do you all do this? Is there a reason you don't do that?" And so forth. One of the questions I get plenty of is why do we baptize babies and children of professing believers? Guy M. Richard, executive director and assistant professor of systematic theology and Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, has been asked that question many times as well, and has pulled together some of his answers in the 129 page softback, "Baptism: Answers to Common Questions". It is an easy read, one that speaks in a straightforward fashion.

Since there are already several reviews of this work I will address some pros and cons. To begin, Richard engages with "Children of Abraham" written by Baptist scholar David Kingdon. He fairly recounts Kingdon's perspective in a clear way that is non-combative and amiable, and then he answers them kindly and capably. As a result of his fair approach, I actually had to pause a moment over a few items I had never thought of before. Further, the author does a nice job explaining Jeremiah 31.31-34 and what makes the New Covenant new, and what makes the New Covenant contiguous with the Old. Also, Richard gives four positive reasons for the baptism of children, and talks to those who have been baptized as children but remained in their disbelief. Overall, the book is warm, winsome, and welcoming.

And then again, there are a couple of concerns I have. The first is how Richard makes the baptism of Romans 6.1-8 Spirit baptism rather than water baptism, "Paul here describes Spirit baptism in terms of being buried with Christ in his death and being raised again with Him to new life" (26). There is some precedent among Protestant exegetes who have read this passage in this way, but it always seems that it does violence to the text, which never mentions the Spirit in reference to baptism. And unless there are clear contextual reasons for doing so, then baptism always refers to water baptism. I think this approach actually weakens his point, and is an arbitrary addition to the passage. The second concern I have is when dealing with the covenant community, he bifurcates the covenant community - whether under the Old Covenant or New - into two communities (76-80). There's the outer covenant community that professes faith and is involved in the ritual, etc., and then there's the inner covenant community that also professes faith and is involved in the ritual, but actually believes. I understand what the author is trying to get at, but this "two communities" talk adds fuel to the erroneous fires I have had to deal with too many times that posits two churches, the visible church with all of its pomp and circumstance, and the invisible church with all of it's warmblooded faith. In my experience, this two church notion frees up people to break loose and go their own way without any accountability. As more than one person has said to me over the years, "Oh, that's the visible church and it's not important. I'm part of the invisible church, and so Jesus and I are in tight with each other." Richard's point might have been better taken if he could have shown there is one covenant community that has both believers and unbelievers, who taste of many of the same graces and mercies and enjoy the sacrament of baptism, but one never receives the grace offered in baptism, and the other does by faith.

"Baptism" by Guy Richard may be just the book some are looking for. I received a free copy handed to me and all the voting elders at our denomination's General Assembly in June 2019. It was a nice gift, and with my concerns I listed above recommend the book.

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