What Is Baptism?

What Is Baptism? (Reformation Trust 2011, retail price: $4 print or $3 electronic) is the latest addition to R. C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions Series. Sproul presents an introductory look at baptism from a Presbyterian perspective.

The 69-page book is divided into six chapters addressing key issues with regards to baptism.

Chapter 1 – Baptism and Salvation
Chapter 2 – John’s Baptism and Jesus’ Baptism
Chapter 3 – The Sign of the Covenant
Chapter 4 – The Meaning of Baptism
Chapter 5 – The Mode of Baptism
Chapter 6 – The Case for Infant Baptism

Overall, Sproul does an excellent job of covering the important issues in fairly short book. Readers with find Sproul to be engaging and entertaining throughout this quick read. The book presents a Presbyterian view of baptism while being fair to alternate positions.

At times the book becomes unnecessarily technical. For example, in explaining the Roman Catholic view of baptism, Sproul launches into a page-long explanation of Aristotle’s theory of causality. Sproul explains Aristotle’s four causes (material, efficient, formal, and final) and then settles upon the instrumental cause, which is not technically one of Aristotle’s causes (the instrumental cause became a separate category of causation under later Neoplatonic influence). Technicalities aside, the whole discussion seems unnecessary. Surely Sproul could be explained instrumentality in a less technical and more concise manner. On a positive note, even in digressions such as this, the book remained interesting and clear.

As a Baptist, I strongly disagree with Sproul’s position on infant baptism. However, the book is what it is: an introductory look at baptism from a Presbyterian perspective. Sproul is fair in presenting evidence from both sides. While he perhaps weighs that evidence incorrectly, Sproul presents a good case for the Presbyterian position on infant baptism.

Despite some minor stylistic criticisms and major theological differences, I would recommend Sproul’s What Is Baptism? to anyone seeking to understand a Presbyterian understanding of baptism.

Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the Reformation Trust. They requested a substantive (though not necessarily positive) review. The views expressed here are my own.

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