I was baptized as a (very slightly) older child when I was 6 years old. I was baptized because I had decided to follow Jesus and “accept him into my heart,” as I said at the time.
For the next 17 years, I was confident that only professing believers should be baptized. I no longer believe that, but as someone who came to the Anglican tradition and who will have my children baptized, I wish I could have read It Takes a Church to Baptize sooner.
This book is written specifically at 24-year-old me, a guy who was falling in love with this Anglican way of being Christian, yet struggled with the question of baptism, particularly infant baptism. Back then, I had a hard time finding accessible resources that explained Anglican infant baptism.
Canon theologian and New Testament scholar Scot McKnight fills that void with his new book, It Takes a Church to Baptize.
The Purpose of the Book
Why another book on baptism?
First, because McKnight wants to educate those who are either new to or interested in the Anglican church but come from a background where baptism was only performed on older children or adults who professed faith in Christ. Now, they are attracted to the Anglican Church because of its worship, way of life, church calendar, church structure, etc.
Oftentimes, as was the case for McKnight himself, these “Angli-curious” individuals get hung up on infant baptism. They wonder why Anglicans baptize children if faith can’t be exercised until they are older. McKnight is writing with these people in mind.
Second, McKnight wants to unpack the Anglican baptismal liturgy with its prayers, ritual actions, and congregational involvement. The book is organized around this liturgy from beginning to end, with explanation coming throughout. It is important, in McKnight’s view, for the reader to understand what’s happening in the baptismal service itself as one way to understand what we Anglicans believe about baptism.
Thirdly, McKnight wants to be biblical. At the end of the day, he is both a Bible scholar and an evangelical, and knows he is writing largely to evangelicals who want a book, chapter, and verse for their beliefs.
Scot takes two chapters in the middle of the book to step away from explaining the liturgy to give his biblical argument for infant baptism. He wants his readers to understand the biblical reasoning behind baptizing infants.
The Main Points of the Book
McKnight is intentional to reiterate a few main points throughout the book in favor of infant baptism.
First, Baptism is a family affair.
Baptism is the incorporation and initiation of a person into the family of God, whether they be an infant or an adult. It happens in the context of the nuclear family, an institution through which God has chosen to work, and which also forms the bedrock of the family of faith. It also happens in the context of a larger church family, which is committed, with the nuclear family, to nurturing these new family members into Christian maturity and faith.
Second, Baptism is biblical.
As my seminary professor John Hannah use to say, “Being biblical doesn’t mean you have a verse for something. It means your idea represents the collective thought of the whole biblical witness.”
Although Scot does explain a few of the key New Testament passages on baptism themselves, he also situates Christian baptism within the grander story of the Bible, and shows it to be the New Covenant rite of initiation. It is for us Christians what circumcision was for the ethnic nation of Israel, a sign of covenant participation in the family of Abraham. Now that the family of Abraham is no longer marked off by Jewish descent, but by union with his seed Jesus Christ, we now initiate and mark off this new family with the rite of baptism into Christ.
Third, Baptism is something that God does to us.
The one being baptized is not the primary actor in baptism, but is actually the recipient of God’s gracious action. At this point, and in the following, McKnight succeeds in separating his view of baptism from the typically Presbyterian argument. Presbyterians baptize their infants as a sign of the promises of the gospel to those who will believe one day. Many other authors I’ve read have communicated this view of infant baptism as the Anglican position. Both our liturgies and the founding statements of the English Reformation state otherwise. McKnight is clear that Anglicans believe something happens in Baptism beyond a mere sign of the promises of the New Covenant.
Fourth, conversion is a process.
For many baptistic believers, this claim comes as a shock, yet we see the language of a process of conversion throughout the New Testament as well as in the writings of the Reformers. Because of this, baptism can be seen as regenerative, but not finally or effectually for eternity.
That is, the regenerative and renewing work of the Holy Spirit is at work in the infant who is being baptized. They are being plunged into a new life with Christ that they must grow into.
However, McKnight is not saying that this baptism finally or ultimately saves the person. They may very well fall away from this, or fail to be nurtured in that faith. They may also be nurtured in it and grow in grace and become mature and faith-full Christians in due course. This process is one that must be pursued until the end of our lives.
McKnight is sure to show us the biblical support for the role of baptism in this process. Colossians 2, Galatians 3, Romans 6, Titus 3, 1 Corinthians 6, and Acts 2 all contain verses that very explicitly connect conversion and regeneration to the act of baptism.
It is worth mentioning that McKnight’s evangelical convictions reemerge at the end of the book. None of these points discussed are at odds with the need for personal repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life. McKnight’s views here are well within historic Anglican belief.
Why You Should Read This Book
You should read this book if you are trying to understand why Anglicans baptize infants.
Perhaps you are a new parent trying to work through your own views on this issue. Or maybe you would like to have a book to give to family and friends to help explain why you are baptizing your children so young!
Note that this is not a book that includes reasons why Presbyterians, Lutherans, Orthodox, or Roman Catholics baptize babies. It is decidedly Anglican and for that reason, McKnight succeeds in setting forth a helpful introduction to Anglican views on baptism generally and infant baptism specifically.
Finally, while this book is primarily (and, in my opinion, successfully) aimed at interested laypeople, this is also a helpful book for any pastor who wants to explain baptism to parishioners more effectively.
I personally lead family ministries at a parish in Texas, and I plan on giving this book to our parents who are seeking to baptize their infants, regardless of their backgrounds, so that they more fully understand what they are committing to as parents/sponsors.
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David C. Smith (@_DavidCSmith) is married to Kendalyn, his lifelong friend. He is a priest for Family Ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Flower Mound, TX. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, earning a Master of Theology with a dual emphasis in New Testament and Historical Theology. He loves to read, write, do Crossfit, try new food and drinks, play video games, and meet new people in new places.