Sartelle’s little book had been on my shelf for years. One day I decided to pick it up and work my way through it in an hour or so taking notes along the way. Having read many books pro and contra infant baptism, I was curious about Sartelle’s approach to the topic (though I had my suspicions)
The book published in 1985 offers some helpful insights into the unfortunate fact that Protestants do not know why they baptize their babies. Even though infant baptism is the majority position in the Church of Christ today, one cannot help but feel pity for naive paedobaptists who are confronted by zealous Baptists with what appears to be “clear evidence” against baptizing babies.
My understanding of infant baptism before becoming a Presbyterian and even in my first couple of years as a Presbyterian was that there was only one line of defense for infant baptism, which came from the circumcision/baptism connection of Colossians and perhaps a random reference to the Gospels where Jesus addresses little ones, and of course, a quick reference to I Corinthians 7:14 where Paul calls children of covenant parents, holy. In my seminary days, Richard Pratt’s lecture Why we Baptized Children opened up new doors of understanding infant baptism. But it was not until I read Lewis Bevens Schenck’s The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant that my eyes were opened to a diversity of arguments and differing opinions on the efficacy of baptism, the role of baptism in the life of the Church, the vast contrast between southern and northern Presbyterians on baptismal regeneration; add to that, the peculiar Kuyperian language of presumptive regeneration, and then with the rise of Federal Visionism, we have the development of Calvinian (to use Nevin’s language) high sacramentology. With all this said, for the baptists or the young paedobaptist converts who are attempting to understand Reformed sacramental theology, the task ahead is great indeed.
Personal context aside, Sartelle falls into the traditional southern Presbyterian camp. His emphases on circumcision as the Old Covenant sign and baptism as a the New Covenant sign is a standard connection in the Reformed tradition. Further, he notes that God has a special affection for the covenant household, as expressed throughout the Old and New Testaments. God, he writes, ” has always had a special regard for the families of His people (13).”
Significant to Sartelle’s argument is the continuity between covenants. According to Sartelle “every doctrine taught in the New Testament has its roots in the Old (11).” Further, noting the circumcision/baptism fulfillment theme, the author concludes that “we follow in the footsteps of Abraham circumcising Isaac when we bring our children to be baptized (11).”
The latter part of the book answers some common questions about infant baptism. Does infant baptism save? What about a child raised in a non-Christian home? The author addresses and answers several other questions.
Sartelle’s book offers a standard introduction to paedobaptism. For the credobaptist who has never heard of why the Reformed Presbyterian tradition baptize infants, this is a good introduction, which can be read in 30 minutes.
Would I recommend this book?
It all depends who is asking. This particular understanding of infant baptism represents a very specific group of Reformed paedobaptists. As long as the reader knows that there are differing views, this is a fine giveaway to those interested in the subject.
What other books would you recommend?