Sorry I missed last month's book review. You will get two this month to make up for it. Our book for this month is the recently published book on baptism released by IVP Academic. The format of the book was good, better than the Point-Counterpoint Series, in my opinion, because the author of each essay was given a few pages to respond to the critiques that the other contributors gave.
Defending the Baptist view was Bruce Ware, professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A major strength is that he spends an extensive amount of time in analysis of the biblical texts. He does make some good points, especially in his analysis of the new covenant in Ezekiel 36 which strongly emphasizes faith as being a marker of the new covenant people.
On the other hand, I felt his logic was faulty on a couple of occasions. One was a minor point, but worth mentioning because I've heard others offer it. Ware claims that immersion being the mode of baptism portrayed in the New Testament suggests that baptism was not administered to infants. However, as both responses pointed out, the Orthodox Church baptizes infants by immersion.
I'm also not convinced that Ware's methodology is the best for addressing the issue. He demands that we have New Testament evidence for infant baptism if we are to practice it and claims that if it were a valid mode of baptism that surely Scripture would tell us that. I think, though, that he overlooks the degree to which much of the New Testament was situational. If the Corinthians weren't making a mess of the Lord's Supper, we wouldn't have any clear teaching on it in all of Paul's epistles. Thus, if infant baptism was the practice of the church from the get go, and it was being done properly, why would we have direction about it in the New Testament. Unlike Ware, I do not think that there is a clear cut answer to the question of mode of baptism in the New Testament.
The next essay was by Sinclair Ferguson defending infant baptism. His argument is steeped in his covenant theology. He sees a high degree of continuity between the covenants, much more continuity than Ware does, which enables him to espouse that baptism is more or less the replacement of circumcision. With Ware, I quickly retort that that is something the New Testament wouldn't have been silent about. Surely somewhere in Acts 15 or in Paul's dispute with the Galatians it would be reasonable to expect to have heard that circumcision was unnecessary because of baptism.
I thought his best points were made when discussing the New Testament mindset. Jesus was very inclusive of little children, and the Bible as a whole seems to show again and again that God works in and through family. Overall, though, I did not find Ferguson to be too convincing. I wonder, with Lane, if he doesn't overly stress the continuity of the covenants.
The final essay was written by Anthony Lane. He favors dual-practice and sees value in both positions. Lane begins by noting that the New Testament is far from clear as to who should receive baptism. The baptisms that are recorded in the book of Acts are far different than the baptisms of people who grow up in Christian families. New Testament baptism was convert baptism. People were exposed to the faith, believed and were immediately baptized. Many children in Christian homes do not have a single conversion experience, they grow into their faith. Thus their process of initiation into the faith is radically different and hence their baptism is qualitatively different.
Lane's argument is bolstered by his understanding of the meaning of baptism, which is significantly different than the other contributors. He sees baptism as a means through which we receive grace from Christ. Baptism is an initiatory step through which people become Christians.
Sensing the ambiguity of the New Testament, Lane turns to the history of the church in the first four centuries. In a very helpful study, he shows that the practice is varied and that there was no attempt to claim that one side or the other was out of step with the practice of the apostles. Thus taking, as he terms it, a seismological approach, he believes that the best answer to the ambiguity of the New Testament is that the apostles themselves practiced a dual-practice baptism.
Of all of the essays I found Lane's to be the best. Certainly not everyone will agree with me in that judgment, but I think that his approach was the best methodologically and that his understanding of the meaning of baptism seems most satisfactory. While I'm not convinced of dual-practice yet, Lane certainly has given me much food for thought on a position that I gave very little credence to before.
If you're interested in the topic of baptism I recommend the book. Each contributor is pretty representative of at least one major line of thought within their tradition. It is an excellent primer for further study.