J Cameron Fraser, Missionary Baptism & Evangelical Unity. Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2021. It is an honour that Cameron has asked me to review his work. We were students […]
J Cameron Fraser, Missionary Baptism & Evangelical Unity. Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2021.
It is an honour that Cameron has asked me to review his work. We were students together at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia). Cameron grew up in Scotland, and is now a minister in the Christian Reformed Church in Alberta, Canada. I am of baptist persuasion, and a member of Rooty Hill Anglican Church (MBM). We have long wrestled with this topic and continue to do so.
This book breaks the mould of past discussions. Cameron turns our attention to the two most important and urgent issues for people on both sides. As the title indicates, this is about the missionary task of the church. It is also about the place of baptism and believers’ children in that task.
Cameron notes that baptisms in the New Testament occurred where unbelievers and their households turned and committed themselves to Christ. By contrast he cites Kenneth Stewart’s observation: “Does not the very frequency with which infant baptism is practised in our churches practically obscure our failure to evangelize and baptize from the world?”
In the past, evangelism and missions have focused on settings that are foreign or overseas. Cameron points us back to New Testament practice. We live in communities like those of the early church.
In chapter 1, Cameron takes us to the question behind the issue of infant baptism: the theology of the child. Are the children of a believing parent saved?
He introduces us to a narrative of our theological heritage that will be new to many. The old Scottish tradition (Bannerman, Cunningham, even Thornwell from the USA), saw covenant children as privileged, but needing to be converted. The Dutch tradition (Kuyper and the first Helvetic Confession et al.) argued for “presumptive regeneration.” Charles Hodge argued for “presumed election.”
In chapter 2, Cameron reviews the position of William Cunningham. He made no assumptions about the salvation of covenant children.
This is a position shared by most Reformed Baptists. General Baptists, along with Spurgeon, hold to the idea that all children, dying before an age of accountability, go to heaven. Cameron, Cunningham et al. would leave these things in God’s hands, rather than presume.
In chapters 3 to 5 Cameron examines how Cunningham’s position relates to the practice of the early church, and to the gospel mission. In Chapter 6 he explores the implications for evangelical unity.
Credo Baptists and Paedobaptists both recognise the need for children of believers to commit to Christ. We differ on the place of children in the church, and their standing before God. These issues have implications for infant communion.
Cameron cites the practice of churches where parents and ministers have the option of infant baptism, dedication or blessing. In my youth, infant baptisms were the norm in Anglican churches. Today, the baptism of new believers is increasingly the norm. The practice of full immersion is returning. Our elders also conduct services of infant baptism. The model Cameron puts forward is the position to which many evangelical and reformed churches have come.
This book highlights our need to look again at what the Scriptures promise to children of believers, especially the meaning of “sanctified” in 1 Corinthians 7:7 – 16. It calls for a re-examination of the place of baptism as the entry point for discipleship/teaching. This is a work of historical theology, which should also stimulate the complementary contributions of exegetical and biblical theology.
It is a must read. It goes a long way to bridging the gap between believers’ and infant baptism. It builds on our shared focus on the Scriptures, our ministry to our children, and our common mission to the community.
– David Jackson formerly taught at William Carey Christian School