Infant Baptism

Today I’ve been invited to speak to trainee Anglican ministers at Oak Hill Theological College in London on the subject of infant baptism. Last term, I spoke at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford and Ridley Hall in Cambridge, on the same topic (and the term before that I was speaking on this at Το Ελληνικό Βιβλικό Κολέγιο in Athens). Obviously I’m being wheeled in as “the baptism guy” for evangelical Anglican ordinands (and some Greek Presbyterians) at the moment! I consider that a huge privilege.

I thought I would just briefly assemble some resources here for those who want to think a bit further about those things.

First: The Anglican Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism

This is a little booklet consisting of classic papers by John Stott and Alec Motyer on the subject of baptism, including infant baptism and the Anglican prayer book doctrine. I edited those together and wrote a preface. This is a great place to start any investigation into the Anglican evangelical understanding of baptism, with expert help from two of the great, unimpeachably evangelical, Anglican biblical commentators.

Second: From Life’s First Cry: John Owen on Infant Baptism and Infant Salvation

This was my St. Antholin Lecture from 2008, and it examines the doctrine of infant baptism as expounded by the famous Reformed theologian and puritan, John Owen (1616-1683). It unpacks his dense argumentation, with application for today, and looks not just at infant baptism but also a little at infant salvation. It ends with a suggested liturgical introduction to an infant baptism (something I’ve been asked for on a number of occasions). This has subsequently been re-printed with slight expansion as a chapter in my book Preachers, Pastors, and Ambassadors. The bones of the argument are also contained in a shorter form in The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology (though without so much contemporary application). The audio recording of my original 66 minute lecture (including questions) can also be heard at the internet journal for integrated theology: Theologian.

Third: The Anglican Doctrine of Baptism

This is an article I wrote for the journal Foundations in 2012 which examines the theology of baptism found in the foundational documents of the Church of England. It expounds the Latin and English texts of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, to see what they teach on the subject, noting especially the Protestant and Reformed (but non-Zwinglian) nature of the Anglican doctrine as well as some of its biblical and patristic foundations. A previously unnoticed example of the Articles’ dependence on Calvin’s Institutes is brought out with regard to infant baptism. Through a study of the liturgical expression of this theology in the various editions of the Book of Common Prayer it also highlights the importance of some historic moments of particular controversy, especially regarding the efficacy of baptism. With application throughout for confessional Anglicans today, it also concludes with a brief look at contemporary controversies surrounding the covenantal nature of baptism, and the current downplaying of baptism within Anglican Evangelicalism.

I don’t think infant baptism is a first order doctrine which should prevent those who believe in it from working with those who don’t. Some of my best friends (as they say) are Baptists, and I’ve learned a huge amount from them. But I do think Anglicans (and Presbyterians) should be clear on what their confessional documents say, and not be afraid to hold, practise, and defend those views. I agree with the great bishop J.C. Ryle, who said, “The subject of infant baptism is undoubtedly a delicate and difficult one … But this must not make members of the Church of England shrink from holding decided opinions on the subject. That church has declared plainly in its Articles that ‘the baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.’ To this opinion we need not be afraid to adhere.”


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