Book Review: Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson

baptismProduct Details

  • Series: Church Basics
  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: B&H Books (January 15, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433688875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433688874
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.2 x 7 inches

B&H Publishing Group sent me a review copy of Understanding Baptism by Bobby Jamieson.  Many thanks.  This little book is based on Mr. Jamieson’s heftier work Going Public: Why Baptism Is Required for Church Membership (B&H Academic, 2015).

An Overview

The book is written with three kinds of readers in mind: (1) the person who believes in Jesus but hasn’t yet been baptized. (2) Christians who are simply interested in learning more about  baptism.  And (3) church leaders and pastors.  This little work contains an introduction and six chapters: 1. What Is Baptism? 2. Who Should Be Baptized? 3. What about Infant Baptism? 4. Why Is Baptism Required for Church Membership? 5. When Is “Baptism” Not Baptism?  6. How Should Churches Practice Baptism?

A Critique

Mr. Jamieson is a Baptist and writes decidedly from this position. (1) What is baptism?  Baptism is a church’s act of affirming and portraying a believer’s union with Christ by immersing him or her in water, and a believer’s act of publicly committing him or herself to Christ and his people, thereby uniting a believer to the church and marking off him or her from the world.

In Mr. Jamieson’s definition of baptism, which he says is a biblical understanding of baptism, baptism is all about what the individual does.  I’m an ex-Baptist.  I would have loved this definition.  But I find it lacking: what about what God does?  Is baptism only to be understood as immersion? What about pouring and sprinkling?  According to Hebrews 9:10, 13, 19, baptism is properly understood as ceremonial cleansing, with OT ritual sprinklings as examples.

In chapter 3, What About Infant Baptism? I do not believe Mr. Jamieson understands how a Presbyterian (or someone like that) argues for infant baptism.  Mr. Jamieson offers six reasons why he is against infant baptism.  Let’s just look at the first one: Paedobaptism applies the sign of union with Christ to those who are not united to Christ.  It divorces the sign from the reality.

His first reason against infant baptism is quite faulty: (1) the sign of circumcision, the sign and seal of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, was applied to infants who did not even believe (Genesis 17:7-14).  But they were expected to profess faith and have their hearts circumcised (Deut. 10:12-17; cf. Romans 2:29 and 9:6-8).  The physical sign in the flesh was a constant remind that they needed to circumcise their hearts.  They received the sign before the reality (cf. Romans 4:11).  (2) Baptism has replaced circumcision as the new covenant sign (Colossians 2:11-12).  Those who object to the administration of baptism, the new covenant sign, to the infants of believers should also object to the administration of circumcision, the old covenant sign.

In chapter 4, Why Is Baptism Required for Church Membership? Mr. Jamieson makes some good points.  For example, Baptism is the initiating oath-sign of the new covenant.  In chapter 5, When Is “Baptism” Not Baptism? Mr. Jamieson surveys four of the most common scenarios in which “baptism” isn’t actually baptism (remember, he is writing decidedly as a Baptist).  According to Mr. Jamieson, if you were “baptized” as an infant, then your baptism isn’t valid and  you will need to be baptized–for the first time.  Those who have been baptized in infancy have experienced invalid baptisms and are in need of valid baptism–their first baptisms.  In chapter 6, How Should Churches Practice Baptism? Mr. Jamieson surveys the mode, administrator, result, context, and timing.  Regarding mode, Jamieson argues only for immersion as the only proper mode of baptism.  Sprinkling and pouring are outright rejected.

Mr. Jamieson grounds his argument for immersion in Romans 6:1-4 and Colossians 2:11-12.  As an ex-Baptist I’m all too familiar with these lines of arguments.  Mr. Jamieson says that in the above Pauline references, Paul takes for granted that baptism signifies this union with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.  But how should a believer mimic Christ’s death, on a cross–under water?  For sure, plunging under water and rising from water is both dramatic and powerful.  Is this, however, the import of Paul’s words in Romans 6:1-4?  But wait!  Doesn’t baptism also picture putting on Christ like a garment in Galatians 3:27?



As a Baptist, arguing only for believer’s baptism, Mr. Jamieson makes some good points.  But I find his presentation of paedobaptism (baptizing infants) quite weak.  He could have done a better job of representing this position, as noted above.  Perhaps the strength of this work is chapter 4, Why Is Baptism Required for Church Membership?

This entry was posted in Baptism, Baptists, Believer's Baptism, Infant Baptism, Miscellanies, Paedobaptism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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