A Review of ‘The Evangelical Doctrine of Infant baptism’ by John Stott and J. Alec Motyer, with a preface by Lee Gatiss.
It is a great joy to read John Stott (1921-2011) and Alec Motyer (1924-2016) on the subject of infant baptism. Part of the joy is to read their lucid and compelling writing and be reminded of all they did for the evangelical cause, especially in Motyer’s ministry as Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, and Stott’s many years as Rector of All Souls Langham Place, from which he was able to minister all around the world. These men were such a blessing to so many then, and can continue to be a blessing now, as their voices continue to resonate in books like this. It is also a joy to hear how strong a case they made for infant baptism. If any evangelical Anglican feels at all uncomfortable endorsing the practice of the baptism of infants, this book will prove a wonderful balm.
Stott is given first priority, and he calmly and clearly lays out both the meaning and effect of baptism. With characteristic clarity and brevity, he shows that baptism signifies union with Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Spirit, and points out how all these three are picked up in the language of the Book of Common Prayer. Then, moving from meaning to effect, Stott tackles the thorny question of whether the benefits are inevitable or in some sense conditional, showing the necessity of repentance and faith for the promises of baptism to be received. He concludes by rejoicing in the assurance baptism gives, and the need for baptismal discipline so that it does not just become rite of passage, and for the evangelism of those who are baptised as well as those who are not.
Motyer then unpacks the relationships between baptism with the Lord’s Supper, and between baptism and regeneration, in readiness to argue that infant and adult baptism should be see in the same light. Here we get more attention to the biblical basis of baptism and have a careful engagement with what the prayer book says, and how it should be understood. This too is full of richness and spiritual insight, showing the continuity between the Old and New Testaments in God’s saving purposes, drawing on the covenantal language that is so integral to evangelical sacramental thinking. The vexed question of the relationship between baptism and regeneration gets the necessary attention, with the meaning of regeneration expounded in terms of new birth, adoption as God’s children, and being raised to new life. That sets out the basis for a very helpful explanation of how baptism points to regeneration, but does not inevitably deliver it.
Reissuing these two articles side-by side is very effective in making the case for infant baptism. There is remarkably little duplication and their mutual reinforcement makes their value more than the sum of the parts. These two pastor-scholars deliver complementary perspectives that leave the reader delightfully confident that not only can a case be made for infant baptism, but that the case is strong and remarkably hard to resist.
Lee Gatiss has done the church a service in reissuing these two excellent articles, and introducing them in a way that prepares the reader well for the feast that lies ahead. If you would like to hear the case made for infant baptism, or would just love to enjoy the writing of Stott and Motyer, this is a book to get.