Paedobaptism vs. Credobaptism

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Here recently my wife and I rejoiced over the baptism of our baby daughter, Felicity. 

It’s funny how things change.  Ten years ago I never would have dreamed of having one of my children baptized as an infant.  But alas, I’ve been won over by those pesky Presbyterians.  Some would say fooled though.  And I understand why.  The issue of infant baptism is a charged subject; and no small number of Baptists will moan in agony at the mere mention of the practice.

Here I’m reminded of a little known, but humorous fact.  If you have Macarthur’s Study Bible, specifically the 1997 edition, which is the one I own, turn to the topical index and look up “Baptism.”  Now scan down the list.  There towards the end, under “administered to,” you will read the following,

“Scriptures supporting infant baptism.  Prov 30:6.”

Ohh, what is this?  Macarthur cites a passage supporting infant baptism?  Let’s check it out. 

Proverbs 30:6 reads, “Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”


He must have gotten flack over that, because when I went to show a friend of mine the putdown in his Macarthur Study Bible, which happened to be a later edition, it was gone.  They removed it.  They should have kept it.  It makes me chuckle. 

So as I was saying, the debate over infant baptism is an emotionally charged subject?  Why?  Well, there are many reasons.  For one, it’s usually misunderstood and thought to confer salvation, which makes people think we’re playing footsie with Rome.  But for those who know better, I think this issue really shows how one puts their Bible together.  It sheds light on their overall hermeneutic, their view of the covenants, their eschatological leanings, their ecclesiological presuppositions and their understanding of the sacraments, to just name a few.  And that, mind you, will always cause a stir. 

Now if you haven’t thought through this issue, you’re in for a real treat.  You’re going to be introduced to all kinds of unfamiliar topics and ideas, concepts that are at both daunting in their complexity, but profoundly important. 

The best way to wade through this subject is to read.  Reading is almost always the best approach.  But a good debate can prove helpful as well.  So that’s what I’m going to do- recommend debates for your listening pleasure. 

Here are some options:

James White vs. William Shisko (This is a good debate):

Thomas Schreiner vs. David VanDrunen (Schreiner was the better debater in the Q and A):

Fred Malone vs. Robert Strimple (It’s a good debate, but the audio is a bit annoying.  It was recorded back in 1999.)

Here I will add one more comment.  I have decided to post some of my own thoughts about this issue, specifically, the nature of the new covenant in light of the warnings.  I think it is a crucial issue, and it is one that comes up in nearly every paedo/credo baptism debate.  Go to the top of the website and click “Theoblogical.”    

Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced

Must Listen Factor: Specialized.  Only audio scavengers with a strong penchant for theology will want to wade through these.    


8 thoughts on “Paedobaptism vs. Credobaptism

  1. Austin,

    I followed you here from the Puritanboard.

    Regarding the MacArthur Study Bible, it’s clear that the topical index was an older production by someone else that was based on the KJV (see “unicorn” and similar terms) that was inserted into the study Bible. I never found much use for the index and never saw this item, which indeed is quite interesting!

    About two years ago I’ve made the opposite shift, from Presbyterian to baptistic beliefs.

    Note that Schreiner and Caneday’s book “The Race Set Before Us” is somewhat controversial and has spawned at least one book in response, although overall the book hasn’t seemed to have generated much discussion pro or con, except perhaps in certain academic circles. (In his blog of the same title, Dr. Caneday notes his agreement with Norman Shepherd’s views on justification.) In my experience Schreiner and Caneday’s view isn’t a view held by that many Baptists, most of whom would probably hold to the “test of genuineness” view with regard to the warnings.

    1. Thanks, Chris. I’ll have to look into the whole Shepherd thing. That intrigues me… and surprises me. As for Schreiner’s view, I gotta say that I find it very convincing. I’m curious, have you had the chance to read it?

      Thanks again for the comments and info!

      1. I’ve had that book for over a year but haven’t gotten around to finishing it. As for Shepherd, you can search the PB, and no doubt a number of threads will come up if the search feature is working right. (When I was posting there sometimes it worked well and sometimes it didn’t.)

        Dr. Schreiner recently published a much shorter book on the same topic.

      2. Thanks again, Chris. I plan on hunting that down tonight. Oh, and I was going to comment on what you said earlier regarding the whole “test of genuiness” view thing. Yes, I agree. It seems to me that many Baptists hold that view. And in many ways, it’s quite right. But I wonder what one might say to this: Given Acts 9:15, along with what Paul says about himself elsewhere, would he therefore be above the warnings? In other words, let’s say that someone knows they are truly saved (even elect). When they reach that point, do the warnings no longer apply since their destiny is assured? I, along with Dr. Schreiner, would say that the warnings still apply, and apply truly (Like Acts 27 and the shipwreck). But wouldn’t a consistent Baptist holding to a “retrospective warning view” have to say that the elect cannot be warned because damnation is, in every sense, ontologically impossible? I say “ontologically impossible” to highlight that there isn’t any sense in which damnation is possible.

        Here an example might prove helpful. Take Jesus’ legs. Could they have been broken on the cross? In one sense, the answer is clearly no. But in another sense, His legs were human legs. They could have been broken, had they been hit with a hammer.

        I think the warnings work in much the same way (to speak simply here).

  2. As Schreiner and Caneday note, the test of genuineness view is the view of John Owen and many Puritans and Reformed theologians. Thus, it seems to me that this is really not a paedo/credo issue since a great many paedos going back to the Reformers and Puritans have held to the test of genuineness view or something very similar.

    1. If you mean that this issue doesn’t significantly impact the paedo/credo debate, then I would have to respectfully disagree. Every debate I’ve ever listened to ends up on this point. Most of the current literature features the nature of the new covenant as well. And while it is true that various Reformers held to the “test of genuineness,” I wonder how many only held to it. For I believe that it is an important component to the overall warning/promise question. I just wouldn’t say that effectively covers all the bases. Wouldn’t the proof be in the pudding? Most of the Puritans and Reformers were paedobaptists. They must have conceived of the warnings as more than merely “retrospective” warnings.

  3. The Reformed case for paedobaptism hinges not so much on the warning passages but on the understanding that circumcision replaces baptism, the continuity of covenant membership that is carried foward into the New Covenant and their understanding of the outward and inward aspects of the covenant of grace.

    You are correct that the debate involves the nature of the new covenant and specifically whether it is breakable, but that’s not quite the same thing as what we’ve been discussing here. Both Baptists and Reformed paedobaptists agree that the new covenant is unbreakable so far as the elect are concerned. To hold otherwise would be to deny the perseverance of the saints and would be tantamount to embracing Arminian views. Typically you will not find anything more than the test of genuineness view or else something akin to the hypothetical view among Reformed paedos when it comes to the elect and the warnings. The Reformed view is that “covenant children” who are not elect and who do not come to faith are “covenant breakers” and only partook in the outward administration of the covenant of grace.

    Do some reading on the controversies over Norman Shepherd’s teaching and the Federal Vision and I think you’ll see that the issue is not so clear cut as you suppose. The warning passages are hotly debated in that controversy, along with baptismal regeneration, presumptive regeneration, whether covenant children in some sense really do actually partake in the new covenant i.e. inwardly and not just outwardly, whether covenant children should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper apart from a profession of faith (paedocommunion) etc. If you’re not familiar with either of these controversies, the page would be a good place to start. Both of these are controversies within Reformed paedobaptist ranks, with the Shepherd controversy starting in the late 70’s when he was a professor at WTS and the related Federal Vision controversy starting in the early 2000’s, culminating in both views being condemned by every NAPARC denomination over the past few years.

    Given Dr. Caneday’s stated affinities for Dr. Shepherd’s views coupled with Drs. Schreiner and Caneday noting at the outset that they are setting forth a somewhat unique view should alert you to the fact that what they teach isn’t the same as historical and confessional Reformed theology.

    Well, that’s about all I have for now. It looks like we both have quite a bit of reading to do, as well as perhaps some listening.

    1. Yeah, I’m familiar with the FV controversy. And I very much disagree with their undifferentiated covenant membership. But that’s another discussion 🙂

      It’s been good talking. Keep in touch. And may your ears be filled with many good things 🙂

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