Mar 11, 2011

Recommended Reading: Doctrine of Baptism

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One of the most contentious theological issues dividing believers from other believers is the doctrine of baptism. Is baptism by immersion only, or may a person be baptized by pouring or sprinkling as well? Are believers only to be baptized, or should believers and their children be baptized? Is baptism merely a symbol, or does it effectually cause any spiritual benefits?

What are some helpful books for those seeking to understand the issues involved? This list is not exhaustive, but it does contain some texts that may be helpful for those interested in studying these issues in more detail.

The Sacraments in General

1. The Sacraments by G.C. Berkouwer

Professor Berkouwer was Dr. Sproul’s instructor during his doctoral studies in the Netherlands. This book is one of the few contemporary Reformed works devoted entirely to the doctrine of the sacraments. Berkouwer deals with the number of sacraments, the relationship between word and sacrament, and the efficacy of the sacraments before turning to discuss various issues related specifically to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Historical Works

1. Baptism in the Early Church by Everett Ferguson

One would be hard-pressed to find a more thorough historical study of baptism in the first five centuries of the church. Ferguson’s 900+ page book is divided into seven parts: 1) Antecedents to Christian Baptism; 2) Baptism in the New Testament; 3) The Second Century; 4) The Third Century to Nicaea; 5) The Fourth Century; 6) The Fifth Century; and 7) Baptisteries.

2. Baptism in the Reformed Tradition by John W. Riggs

Riggs’ book is a helpful introduction to the baptismal theology and practice of first and second century Reformed theologians such as Bucer, Bullinger, and Calvin.

Multi-View Books

1. Baptism: Three Views edited by David F. Wright

Of the several multi-view books on the subject of baptism, this one edited by the late David Wright is the best. The contributions by Sinclair Ferguson, Anthony Lane, and Bruce Ware are all outstanding, and the interaction is most helpful.

Baptism (Reformed)

1. Word, Water & Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism by J.V. Fesko

Fesko’s book is the most up-to-date work on baptism in general from a Reformed perspective. He divides his book into three parts. He first looks at the history of the doctrine of baptism in Part One. Part Two is devoted to a biblical-theological examination of the subject. Finally, Part Three addresses the systematic theological questions surrounding baptism. There are a number of books that deal with the material covered in Parts One and Three. The high point of this book is the material found in Part Two. It is very helpful.

2. Christian Baptism by John Murray

John Murray’s little book on baptism remains a helpful starting point for those who want to grasp the Reformed doctrine on the subject. He covers the import, mode, efficacy, and recipients of baptism in concise chapters.

Baptism (Baptist)

1. Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ edited by Thomas Schreiner and Shawn Wright

Those looking for a general introduction to the Baptist perspective on this sacrament would be well-advised to read this multi-authored work. It contains chapters dealing with baptism in the various parts of the New Testament as well as defenses of distinctive Baptist perspectives on issues such as the mode and the recipients of baptism.

Infant Baptism (Reformed)

1. Infant Baptism: Scriptural and Reasonable by Samuel Miller

Samuel Miller was one of the first professors at Princeton Seminary in the nineteenth century. His book on infant baptism is not lengthy, but it remains one of the most powerful defenses of the Reformed view in print.

2. Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children by Daniel R. Hyde

As far as contemporary defenses of the Reformed doctrine and practice of infant baptism are concerned, Daniel Hyde’s little book is the best. His book is particularly helpful for those coming out of a Baptist background into a Reformed church.

Infant Baptism (Baptist)

1. Infant Baptism and the Covenant of Grace by Paul K. Jewett

Of all the books defending believer’s baptism and critiquing infant baptism, Paul Jewett’s remains, without question, the best by far.

In our next installment, we will look at some of the best books on the Lord’s Supper.

This article is part of the Recommended Reading collection.