Understanding Baptism – Bobby Jamieson

Baptism, for the vast majority of Christian denominations, is a very important topic. It’s something Jesus modeled in his ministry with his own baptism and something he commanded his followers to both submit to and perform. It’s such an all-pervasive part of Christianity that it often gets overlooked in Christian teaching because “they already know about that.” But truth is many don’t truly understand it at all. In this short volume, Bobby Jamieson succinctly covers the major aspects of baptism in a way that’s suitable for a majority of Christian interpretation.

Whenever I read a book on baptism, I always look at how it handles the hot topics, that is, what does it teach about the method of baptism (sprinkle, pour, or immerse), the age of baptism (infant baptism, child baptism, adult baptism), and the role of baptism (physically necessary for salvation, symbolically portraying salvation).

Regarding the method of baptism, Jamieson advocates the method of immersion, though he does note that all three methods have their symbolism. He promotes immersion as the normative mode of baptism in the NT appears to be immersion.

Regarding the latter, he unequivocally states that baptism is symbolic of salvation, not a necessity for salvation. He honestly simply avoids any discussion that some believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation, which I can’t decide is an oversight that needed discussed or a tangential discussion best left out of such a short volume.

As for the middle, I wish Jamieson had spoken more about when he feels is a good time to broach the subject of baptism with a church-going child/teenager rather than spending the bulk of the book discussing the perils of infant baptism. While only six pages are spent on answering “Who should be baptized?”, twenty are spent on exclaiming “Not infants!”

Now I don’t believe in infant baptism, but that’s nearly one-third of the book on what is really a tangential issue. It seemed out of place in the middle of the book and indeed seemed like it was written as the book’s main thrust. Jamieson would have done well to pare down his section on who shouldn’t be baptized and instead built up his section on who should be baptized.

I also disagree slightly with his primary assertion that baptism is the act of a local church. Baptism should normally take place within the community of a local church, but we are baptizing people into the Kingdom of God, not the local church. For instance, I—an ordained pastor—baptized a friend of mine who, at the time, had just moved and had no long-term church home. She strongly felt the need to be baptized, but felt asking the church she was attending to do so awkward, as she was still a stranger to them. Instead, she came to me and I, with the authority of God as a disciple, with her confession, and with the relationship necessary to know her heart, baptized her into the Kingdom. It was a deeply meaningful experience that would have held less meaning in a church setting.

I’m not saying that we should set up rogue baptizers, because the backing authority of the church body to inaugurate a kingdom citizen is a powerful thing. But I am saying that we should be careful to differentiate between a theological necessity and a theological ideal.

Overall, I’m not sure what to make of this. Jamieson provides good information, but his time spent on infant baptism detracts from the rest of the book. Unless someone was struggling with the legitimacy of infant baptism, I’d skip giving them this book.

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Author: Josh Olds

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