Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual? | Book Review
Baptism. Until you’ve looked into the issue, it might seem like one of those odd topics that some people love to discuss, but in the end the answer you land on isn’t super important. At least that’s what I had thought. Recently though, I decided that Baptism was a topic that deserved a closer look. Towards that end, I borrowed a couple books and got to reading.
The first of these books was Alan Conner’s Covenant Children Today: Physical or Spiritual? Conner’s book came highly recommended to me. Having read it, I would agree that it is a valuable resource. Conner’s goal for the book is “to advance some of the biblical support for a Reformed credobaptist view of ‘covenant children’ in the New Covenant.”1 And right about here is where we should probably lay out a bit of the background for the discussion Conner has in mind.
There are several ways to categorize beliefs regarding baptism, one of which centers on the subject being baptized. Christian traditions fall into one of two broad camps: Credo or Paedo Baptists. Credobaptists baptize based on a candidate’s agreement with a creed. As such, they will restrict baptism to candidates that have the ability to communicate the creed and their agreement with it. Paedobaptists on the other hand, also administer baptism to candidates whose families are church members. To put it much simpler, they extend baptism to some infants. In Reformed theological traditions, Paedobaptism is more frequent than Credobaptism. Conner, as a Reformed Credobaptist is seeking to fill the stock of Credobaptist literature. From a reading perspective, Connor’s work is written to be accessible on a lay level, but with enough scholarly support to give it substance. In this vein, he has done a good job. The chapters are concise and communicate clear ideas. While it isn’t the easy fluff read that most contemporary books end up providing, it is by no means esoteric or obtuse.
Conner’s thoughts center around the difference between the Old and New Covenants in Scripture. Specifically, Conner sets out to show that God’s covenant with Israel is qualitatively different from God’s covenant with the Church. This distinction is important because baptism, for Conner, is tied to church membership. Members of the Church receive baptism. The argument that Connor anticipates states that God’s covenant with the Church is an extension of his covenant with Israel, infants of believing families should be considered members of the Church, just as they were in Israel. Instead of this perspective, Conner attempts to show that the covenant with the Church is, well, a new covenant and, as such, does not have the same rules for membership that the old covenant did.
Given the fact that Conner’s goal is primarily to advance a case for the Credobaptist understanding of Scripture, he does not interact with Paedobaptist arguments in depth. Given the book’s purpose though, this is understandable and to be expected. If you are looking for an in-depth comparing and contrasting of the different views of Baptism in the Reformed tradition, you will probably want to use another resource. However, if you are new to the discussion, or looking for an introduction to Credobaptist thought, Conner provides an excellent point of departure. The clarity of his presentation allows for an easy comprehension of his argumentation, while the scholarly background allows you to use the book as a reference during future study. If Baptism is a topic that is new for you, I would highly recommend this book as one of your study resources.
Photo courtesy of Patryk Sobczak