One of the problems with the debate about infant baptism is that many of my Baptist brethren do not see the real issue. They say things like “I don’t see God commanding us to baptize babies” or “I don’t see any babies baptized in the New Testament”. And they are flabbergasted when good, godly Christians like John Calvin, or R. C. Sproul, or John Murray actually believed and practiced infant baptism.
The real issue in the infant baptism debate is not chapter-and-verse prooftexting or evidence in the New Testament, but is one of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science/art of how one interprets a text, in our case, the Bible. And this is why Jeffrey Johnson’s book is helpful; he understands that the infant baptizer of the Presbyterian or Reformed Anglican strain have incredibly biblical reasons for their practice and he seeks to address their reasons on hermeneutical and exegetical grounds.
Johnson argues that “The fundamental flaw of paedobaptist covenant theology is its attempt to label the Mosaic Covenant as a covenant of grace. The problem is that the Mosaic Covenant contained conditions and covenant-breakers, and these two things are contrary to a covenant based upon grace” (p. 121). Much of the book explains this problem and the underlying hermeneutical issues surrounding it, particularly the relationship of the old and new covenants and the participants in each.
I appreciated Johnson’s discussion of the old and new covenants, as well as his discussion of the Abrahamic covenant. However, his chapter (Chapter 15 “The Meaning of Circumcision”) on the paedobaptist objection to his assertion was weak and weakened the book. The paedobaptist objection is: the covenant of circumcision was not made with Moses but with Abraham. So, in other words, Johnson has targeted the wrong covenant and missed the point. I think his argument regarding the Mosaic covenant has merit, but I believe that his arguments connecting circumcision and the Mosaic covenant were too weak. They could be strengthened and help this crucial point in the book.
Johnson’s book is worth the read for his ideas. However, at times his repetition of ideas and presentation are tedious. Also, strangely enough, his discussion of the Abrahamic covenant is located in the second half of the book, but the ideas contained therein are foundational to understanding his argument. It seems out of order, and should have been moved to earlier in the book.
This book would be good for any Baptist to read to gain a better understanding of covenantal infant baptism and a possible objection to the practice.